PHOENIX — Hundreds marched on Monday to the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office to call on President Barack Obama to halt deportations.
The march came days after a group of activists stopped a court hearing for recently apprehended border crossers by chaining themselves to the bus transporting the immigrants to the courthouse.
As the chances of Congress passing an immigration reform bill this year wanes, activists are calling on the president to take administrative action himself.
For weeks activists had been planning Monday’s protest, which they said would shut down the ICE office here using peaceful civil disobedience and protest.
Activists had planned to block buses transporting immigrants out of the facility as one group had done at the same office over the summer.
But on Monday, the ICE office was already shut down. A note on the gate said it would be closed from Friday until Monday.
Federal officials in Washington did not respond to inquiries about why the office was closed, and if it was because of the Columbus Day holiday.
No buses carrying immigrant detainees were spotted coming in or out of the facility all day, a fact that activists celebrated.
In fact, the protesters skipped engaging in civil disobedience and instead danced in front of the ICE office.
They decorated the entrance of the closed ICE office with a banner that read ‘Not 1 More Deportation.’
The mood was boisterous, with a large group of demonstrators dancing 'La Macarena' at one point.
Among the protesters was Maria Landeros, a restaurant worker and mother of three who immigrated illegally from Mexico 20 years ago.
“The sheriff separated my family, and that is why I wanted to speak out now,” Landeros said in Spanish.
Last year her husband was arrested in one of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s worksite raids. He faced deportation and the family was separated while he was held in ICE custody.
He’s back at home now, but Landeros doesn’t want other families to go through what she did.
She believes the president has the power to extend the deportation relief he offered to young immigrants to other immigrants in the country without authorization.
The Obama administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, in 2012 so young people who came to the country illegally as children could get a temporary reprieve from deportation and two-year work permits.
So far Obama has publicly rejected the idea of broadening the program.
But could it be legally done?
Hiroshi Motomura, a professor at University of California Los Angeles School of Law, believes in a limited way, it could.
“I can see that the rationale for DACA applies not only to children but to other people who are low priorities for deportation,” Motomura said.
Motomura believes the benefit could be extended to other groups named in ICE memos on prosecutorial discretion. Those include relatives of veterans, nursing mothers or people already waiting in line for an immigration benefit, to name a few.
But he doesn’t believe the effort could be used for all the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.
Yet suppose both chambers of Congress agree to pass immigration reform legislation, but then there’s a lag before the president can sign it, Motomura said.
“Then I think the president would be within his rights to say that during the time until he can sign the bill that he is not going to deport anyone who is going to benefit from it,” Motomura said.
But in the meantime, not everyone wants to see the president take more action on immigration on his own.
“At this point in time, we think that is a bad idea,” said John Shadegg is a former Arizona congressman who is now part of the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center’s immigration task force.
The group put out a statement last week denouncing the idea of the president extending DACA and circumventing Congress.
“If an administrative solution were to come forward, a broader one than the current DACA program, we believe that would harm and perhaps retard or even preempt the passage of legislation,” Shadegg said.
But many of those protesting Monday said they can’t wait anymore because some 1,100 people are deported every day.
“This is not a one-time event,” said Alejandro Caceres, who came from Austin, Texas, for the protest.
He was among dozens of activists who spent the weekend in Phoenix learning new activism tactics focused on blocking deportations.
“I do not believe that we can ignore the reality of our community and that is deportation," Caceres said.
Tweets from @judejoffeblock
Protesters headed to ICE office in Phx later today. Note on gate says office is closed Friday to Monday pic.twitter.com/LS4weviRVL— Jude Joffe-Block (@judejoffeblock) October 14, 2013
Phoenix ICE protesters getting ready, including giant puppet manned by at least 4 people pic.twitter.com/pGJsPgXKgt— Jude Joffe-Block (@judejoffeblock) October 14, 2013
Marchers are on Central ave now pic.twitter.com/iPvXdmHiQs— Jude Joffe-Block (@judejoffeblock) October 14, 2013
At ICE office protesters hung up their signs on gate and are having a dance party pic.twitter.com/NLtxbys7LA— Jude Joffe-Block (@judejoffeblock) October 14, 2013
Handful of counter protesters across the street from ICE protest must be hot. I saw them here 5 hours ago, too— Jude Joffe-Block (@judejoffeblock) October 14, 2013