Mobilization across the country demands Obama administration stop deportations and pass genuine immigration reform.
CROWD: When communities are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!
OSCAR LEÓN, TRNN PRODUCER: Human Rights organizations and immigrant rights activists held a week of action in many cities around the country to demand a halt to all deportations.
Since the National Action Day for Immigration Reform on April 10, Latino activists and families have organized a number of actions in order to build up political pressure, while Democrats and Republicans debate about immigration reform in the Senate and eventually in the House of Representatives in U.S. Congress. On one side, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid declared Wednesday on an interview in Nevada's Public TV, "it should be pretty easy to get four more Republican votes needed to pass the Senate 60-vote threshold." Reid's optimism contrasts with Democrat Senator Bob Menedez's opinion. The chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations recently said that "Immigration reform doesn't have 60 Senate votes." Furthermore, the Senate's eventual bill is not expected to pass the House. It has been reported that House Speaker John Boehner has insisted that "the Senate bill would not pass the House," which he said "would craft its own immigration reform bill."
Without many certainties about the final immigration reform bill that the president would eventually sign into law, while deportations planes leave the country every day in record numbers, human rights organizations, churches, and Latino families are feeling doubts and insecurity about their living situation, motivating them to speak out and demonstrate on the streets around U.S. in an effort to influence the debate on Capitol Hill.
On Wednesday, May 29 in Chicago, Latino rights advocates and activists joined environmental groups and chained themselves outside a fundraiser party to support Democrats running for the House on the next elections, hosted by Barack Obama--or "deporter in chief", as they call him. There Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi, and many other Democrats had reportedly paid between $1,000 to $5,000 dollars to meet and lunch with the president.
ACTIVIST: We're here to demand that Obama stop deportations. He has the power to stop deportations, and we believe in him to be able to do it, and we won't stop until he stops deporting our families every single day.
LEÓN: The activists managed to hang a banner denouncing Obama's record number of deportations outside the Hilton Chicago. But security forces rapidly took it down. The organization used a number of snowplows to block the hotel's first floor windows, this to protect the people inside from a possible sniper fire.
In the southwest of the country, Arizona is one of the main fronts in this conflict between undocumented immigrants and authorities, who are trying to deport them back to their countries of origin. Many families are separated by deportation processes every day, like the Hernandez family, the focal center of Wednesday's march. When a group of activists demonstrated outside the offices of Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency, there they demanded the release of Bertha Alicia Avila, who after being detained at a checkpoint in front of her daughters has been locked up for six months, with no right to bail, waiting for deportation in a cell at Eloy Detention Center, near Casa Grande Arizona, a private for-profit facility with a high rate of inmate fatalities.
JENNIFER HERNANDEZ, PHOENIX, ARIZONA: My dad has tried to get other people, like lawyers, and tried to do stuff with my mom, but since there's been no response, there's been no action taken with my mom, I mean, she just waits where she's detained. And so we decided to take action in our own hands, and we decided to march today to make noise about my mom, to tell people that she exists, that she's just not another number on a paper, that she has feelings, she has a family, and she has to be here with us. I mean, just because [incompr.] documentation, she's not able for six months, almost seven, not be with us. It's hard.
CARLOS AVILA, PHOENIX, ARIZONA: Like, I never really seen--never, like--I never really thought anything would happen to us, 'cause it just didn't. Never came up. It's just there. And it's heard to--I've heard of it happening to other people, but when it happened to us, I just--I didn't know what to do. I just want it to [incompr.] just be there. I really didn't know how to act. I just wanted--.
LEÓN: The next day, on Thursday May 30, the famous sheriff Joe Arpaio dodged an attempt to force a recall election. The activist organizations looking to recall the sheriff were not able to gather the 335,000 valid voter signatures, despite the fact that he was recently found guilty of racial profiling by a federal court.
While Arpaio said he will appeal the court ruling, for the time being he has ordered his deputies to obey the court and stop arresting undocumented immigrants.
JOE ARPAIO, SHERIFF, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA: You know as sheriff I uphold the law. The court's order is now clear. We will no longer detain persons believed to be in the country without authorization whom we cannot arrest on state charges. I have already instructed my deputies.
LEÓN: In Miami, Florida, a couple dozen activist holding signs of "act now pass immigration reform" demonstrated outside U.S. Representative Trey Radel's offices. Radel, a Republican representing Florida in Congress, can be a key vote in the heated dispute of the Senate.
The same day in Wisconsin, a group of activists and immigration advocates held a rally at U.S. Senator Johnson's office. In Portland, there was a journey of fasting on Thursday and Friday.
ACTIVIST: We are part of the National Day Labor Organizing Network. We have this national fast, we call Not One More.
ACTIVIST: I am fasting to help send a message to stop the deportations of immigrants, because I believe that no human being is illegal.
LEÓN: On Thursday, May 30, many other families confronted and demanded Maricopa County's attorney Bill Montgomery to release their relatives.
UNIDENTIFIED: You're going out of your way to make sure that these people can't even fight their immigration case. They're not eligible to get an immigration bond because of the charges you're giving them.
LEÓN: Bill Montgomery has acquired fame of being tough on immigration for presenting charges of conspiration to smuggle themselves for undocumented people otherwise not offenders.
UNIDENTIFIED (TRANSLATED): My kids, they need him.
LEÓN: This has been a widely criticized policy in Maricopa county that has prevented many individuals to make bail when arrested. Put in place in 2007 and ratified by Arizona's senate on April 12, 2011, this policy ensures jail terms for undocumented immigrants before being deported back to their countries.
Perhaps one of the most effective ways to involve people in the undocumented Latino rights movement is art, like the one of Favianna Rodriguez, who has been working on ways to change the perception tagged on immigrants.
FAVIANNA RODRIGUEZ, ACTIVIST AND ARTIST: The anti-immigrants had this frame that said illegal, illegal, illegal. And then undocumented youth came and kicked that frame off, and they say, actually, we're undocumented and we're unafraid.
ACTIVIST: --and against deportations. This moment will not come again. If we settle for less, it will mean years and years of struggle to attain--.
LEÓN: On Friday, May 31, a group called the Tampa Dream Defenders rallied outside the local office of Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who faces criticism for a series of comments he made (as was reported by Reuters) recalling a meeting between republican senators. He said, "This is a terribly flawed bill, but it moves the ball forward, and over the next weeks and months, it will move ever rightward."
Another Republican senator, Ted Cruz, a conservative from Texas who had introduced an amendment to block any access to citizenship to undocumented immigrants, was also confronted this week when about a hundred activists turned out in Manhattan when Cruz attended a Republican Party meeting in NY. In Philadelphia, also on Friday, about two dozen people gathered outside Governor Corbett's office to remind him "that we came out in large numbers for our community members and the issues that matter to us," as one of them told The Inquirer, a local newspaper, referring to their numbers in the last electoral process.
Many more actions are programmed to keep building political momentum, seeking to pressure the congressmen and senators to pass the immigration reform bill. They want legislation not only focused on securing the border and tightening controls, but one with a humane perspective that will satisfy the Latino community aspirations, mainly by stopping deportations, and in some cases even setting up bail for some people waiting for due process like Bertha Alicia Avila.
Reporting from Phoenix Arizona for The Real News, this is Oscar León.