Prominent immigrant advocates launched their most sharply worded public critique yet of the Obama administration’s immigration policy.
Advocates who spoke at a press conference Monday in Washington, D.C. angrily pointed to statistics that showed a significant acceleration in immigration enforcement over President Bush’s last year, with over 387,000 immigrants deported since Obama’s inauguration.
As a result, livelihoods were lost, local economies affected, and families split apart, the advocates said.
“These are the same enforcement practices that we marched against during the Bush administration,” said Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
On any given day, Salas added, over 32,000 immigrants are under detention in jails and prisons around the country awaiting deportation.
The advocates said they felt betrayed by an Obama administration that promised to take their concerns into account and then became more aggressive than its predecessor in cracking down on immigrants.
Brent Wilkes, executive national director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, a Latino civil rights group, recalled candidate Barack Obama’s promise at a LULAC event to reform the country’s immigration laws in his first year in office.
Wilkes said many LULAC members believed this promise, which hasn’t yet been fulfilled.
“But one thing they never believed in their wildest dreams is that President Obama would have a record like this, where he surpassed the Bush administration in deportations,” Wilkes said. “It is unconscionable to have over 387,000 deported in the first year of an Obama presidency, and our community is angry.”
A video of the event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. is available for streaming at C-Span 2 The advocates called on President Obama and Congress to halt deportations until the system gets an overhaul.
The press conference came on the same day President Obama was scheduled to meet with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in an effort to nudge immigration legislation forward.
One of the presenters today was a schoolgirl named Beatriz whose family was targeted by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement inquiry. She tearfully described how federal agents trailed her in order to investigate her parents.
Wilkes said roughly 5.5 million U.S. citizen children nationwide have at least one parent who is an unauthorized immigrant and that deportations inevitably lead to broken households.
“This administration seems proud to out-enforce the Bush administration,” added Pramila Jayapal, executive director of the Seattle-based OneAmerica group.
The advocates also contended that the immigration audits or “paper raids” that have replaced workplace raids under Obama are just as damaging to immigrant communities and the businesses that depend on them.
The advocates, part of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement coalition, plan to join other advocacy coalitions as well as labor and faith groups in a pro-immigration march on Washington, D.C. March 21.