Roughly 100 immigrant rights advocates hosted a candlelight vigil Thursday evening near President Barack Obama’s Kenwood neighborhood home, urging the president to take strong and swift administrative action on deportations.
“The president has said that he will take administrative action to address the immigration crisis, but months after he’s ordered a review of deportations, he has yet to act,” said Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Deportations have reached record highs during Obama’s tenure as president, and Thursday’s protesters marched around his Chicago neighborhood while praying for an overhaul of the nation’s broken immigration system — and a halt to deportations.
“We join families who bear the brunt of this crisis to call on the president to act boldly and swiftly to fight for families,” Benito said.
On June 30, Obama said he would "fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress." Earlier this year, he instructed Homeland Security Department Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to research and report recommendations on steps he can take on immigration reform without approval from Congress. The report is due by the end of summer.
The president’s step toward executive action, which could provide work permits and protection from deportations for millions living in the country illegally, comes as the U.S. House continues to stall on addressing sweeping legislation.
June 27 marked the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Senate’s passage of a bipartisan bill that would provide a streamlined path to citizenship for America’s more than 11 million undocumented immigrants. In October, House Democrats introduced a nearly identical bill. But Republican House leaders, who previously rebuffed the Senate’s bill, have not acted on either piece of legislation.
Back in March, Obama also called on the Department of Homeland Security to reevaluate its deportation practices “to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law.”
But protesters on Thursday demanded a quicker response from the president. In his 2008 campaign, immigration reform was a major component of Obama’s platform.
“I am at risk of deportation every minute of every day,” said Mayra Sarabia, 39, a single mother of three children, ages 19, 16 and 14.
Sarabia has been living in the Chicago area as an undocumented immigrant for more than 20 years. Her children were all born in the U.S.
“I can never get in a routine,” she said. “If you get in a routine and forget for one minute, you could get detained for something totally insignificant. The fear of deportation is always there.”
Here's for more from Benito, Sarabia and Thursday’s demonstration:
If deportation rates continue at their current pace, some 2 million people will have been deported by 2014 under the Obama administration, according to the activists.
Meanwhile, Jesus Serna, 37, is fighting to bring his wife back to Chicago after she was stopped for a traffic citation and subsequently deported back to Mexico about three years ago.
“We need to bring her back, but I’m not sure what we can do,” he said, adding that his wife had been in the U.S. since 2007, while he has been here — also undocumented — for 20 years. “There is no hope for now,” he added.
Serna is raising their 6-year-old daughter, Jennifer, on his own.
“She needs her mother, I need her mother,” he said. “Obama has two daughters, he needs to imagine what it would be like without Michelle. He needs to think about the kids and the families and step up and help us now.”