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Rallies, Blockades, Hunger Strikes Greet Deportation Milestone

Renee Feltz May 3

We now know that 2 million people have been deported under the Obama administration. We’re saying enough of that!” Rosa Lozano defiantly announced at an April 5 protest in the nation’s capital, where hundreds had gathered to mark the record number of removals. The milestone was especially galling because President Obama has argued he had to increase immigration enforcement before he could deliver comprehensive immigration reform.

For Lozano, and millions of immigrants and their loved ones who face deportation, patience has run out.

“We’re not going to be silent, and we’re not going to stop marching, and we’re not going to stop participating in acts of civil disobedience,” Lozano continued, “until Obama takes us seriously and uses his executive order to give our communities relief, because we know that we don’t need Congress for that.”

By “we,” Lozano is largely referring to the growing number of immigrants who are coming out of the shadows to join marches, direct actions and hunger strikes. And “relief” is now more immediate than the much-debated path to citizenship.

The call is for Obama to take actions that would stop deportations, for example, of anyone who would be eligible for citizenship under the immigration reform bill that passed in the Senate last year. Or he could extend a memo he signed in June 2012 called “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” which halts the pending removal of young people who came to the United States as children and have been in school or the military. Another option is to end the Secure Communities program that Bush began but Obama expanded, in order to target so-called “criminal aliens.” Recent figures show two-thirds of those deported under Obama committed only minor infractions, such as traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all.

The April 5 rally where Lozano spoke was one of 80 events held nationwide that day, organized and largely attended by immigrants and their allies, under the slogan, “Not One More.” It was followed by the launch of a rotating hunger strike at the doorstep of the White House.

Behind the Walls

Many of these actions have been spurred on by a rise in resistance behind bars — from those directly facing deportation. Far from the nation’s capital, hundreds have rallied in support of the migrants on hunger strike inside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. Weekly vigils during which supporters read messages sent out by detainees are held outside the center.

Mora Villalpando, a Tacoma activist and undocumented immigrant with the group Latino Advocacy, told Free Speech Radio News that the hunger strikers serve as real-life examples of how current immigration policies divide families, and their goal is to change the discourse around the issue of immigration reform. “They’re doing this for their children because they want their children to see that, although they might be deported, they fought. First, to have their children live better lives, but now they’re fighting to keep families together.”

Many of those protesting inside the Northwest Detention Center, which is run by the private prison company Geo Group, have been placed in solitary confinement as punishment, prompting a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. This hasn’t stopped the tactic from spreading. Similar hunger strikes have been confirmed at detention centers in Eloy, Arizona, as well as in El Paso and Conroe, Texas.

When Manuel Martinez, one of the hunger strikers in Conroe, was deported, his daughter and wife traveled from Houston to Washington, D.C., to join the rolling hunger strike in front of the White House.

“My dad is my hero and I’ll do whatever I have to so he can be home again,” explained 13-year-old Melanie Martinez.

On the same day she arrived, 19 people were arrested outside a detention center in Boston when they chained themselves together to block the facility’s entrance. One of them addressed his speech to President Obama in a video that was posted online and went viral.

“You are tearing us apart!” said Andrés del Castillo. “I direct that message directly to the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama! That is to you, as a son of an immigrant! As a son of someone else that comes from a different land, you should know better than any that we deserve rights, that we deserve dignity, and you should be recognizing our families!”

As The Indypendent went to press, the Obama administration announced it may take steps to limit deportations of immigrants without serious criminal records. The response, says Pablo Alvarado, head of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, came “because suffering is speaking. Affected communities have protested. They have marched. They have engaged in direct civil disobedience. And as a consequence, they have made sure that the end of deportation becomes Plan A. So the question now is not whether the president will act; it’s when will he do it.”

Renée Feltz is a producer and criminal justice correspondent for Democracy Now!.