As Congress prepares to close the legislative session this week without approving any immigration reform legislation, a group of activists blocked the entrance to a detention center in New Jersey on Tuesday as a way to protest the record number of deportations that have occurred under the Obama administration.
Forming a human chain, eight activists lied on the middle of the road that serves as an entrance to the Elizabeth Detention Center. It took more than an hour before police officers moved in to arrest them. Meanwhile, snow began piling and dozens gathered around the activists, chanting phrases like, “Stop deportations, not one more!”
“We can’t let more families to be separated,” said Rosa Santana, one of the activists who were arrested. “We can’t wait for Congress. After what I saw my family go through I want to help other families that are in the same situation.”
Santana came to the United States after Hurricane Mitch hit her home country of Honduras in 1998. Her aunt and uncle were deported recently.
Joining Santana to participate in the civil disobedience action were a few undocumented immigrants and community organizers from various local groups, including Casa Freehold and Unidad Latina en Acción New Jersey.
Ana Pazmino, one of the organizers of the action, said the activist decided to take their own measures to stop deportations by using their bodies to block the entrance of the detention center, rather than continue waiting for Congress to act on immigration reform legislation.
“People are affected daily,” Pazmino told VOXXI. “There are children who are separated from their parents and people who are separated from their siblings on a daily basis.”
Obama pressured to stop deportations, but can he do it?
The civil disobedience action is the latest in a series of actions put together by the #Not1More Deportation campaign, led by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, to pressure President Barack Obama to use his executive power to stop deportations.
The first action took place Sep. 18 when seven undocumented immigrants handcuffed themselves to the White House gate. Ever since then, nine other actions, including the one from Tuesday, have taken place.
Organizers say they plan to continue doing these actions until Obama expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to more undocumented immigrants. Currently, the program only benefits undocumented youth between the ages of 15 to 30 years old.
But Obama has insisted he doesn’t have the power to stop deportations en masse and has said the best way to stop deportations is by pushing Congress to pass immigration reform legislation. He repeated that message in San Francisco two weeks ago when 24-year-old Dreamer Ju Hong interrupted his immigration speech and asked him to stop all deportations.
“If in fact I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so,” Obama said. “But we are also a nation of laws. That’s part of our tradition.”
Experts told PolitiFact that having the president take action to stop deportations en masse would likely violate the separation of powers. Still, advocates believe it can be done.
“It’s a lie to say the president can’t stop deportations. He does have the ability to do so,” B. Loewe, a spokesman for NDLON, told VOXXI.
A group of 29 Democrats also believe Obama has the power to stop deportations. Last week, the group — led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona — wrote a letter to Obama, asking him to “suspend any further deportations and expand the successful deferred action program to all those who would be potential citizens under immigration reform.”
Since Obama took office in 2009, his administration has deported about 400,000 people every year. At the current rate of deportations, the Obama administration is on track to deport 2 million people by 2014.
“The president can’t be a champion of immigration reform and the deporter-in-chief at the same time,” Loewe said.