Children, Families Protest at Capitol for Immigrant Rights

DSC_0125-1024x682The Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) has issued a directive to President Obama and House Republicans: We want immigration reform now. In their Stop Separating Families campaign, the immigrant-rights coalition is giving legislators until June 28 to pass immigration reform legislation that halts the deportation of immigrant families. According to FIRM, June 28 “will mark the pivoting by the immigrants’ rights movement towards civic engagement and a more intense push for administrative relief.”

June 28 also marks the day, one year ago, that the Senate passed an immigration reform bill providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. FIRM is now pressuring the Republican-controlled House to do the same. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has deported more immigrants than any other administration in U.S. history—almost 2 million people since Obama’s first inauguration. In the most recent two-year period on record, July 2010 – October 2012, 200,000 parents of U.S.-born children were deported. Under current immigration laws, these children are then left in the United States with one or neither of their parents to care for them. The Applied Research Center found that at least 5,100 children of deported immigrants are currently in foster care.

The White House acknowledged the effect the record number of deportations has on immigrant families in a statement on March 13:

The president emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system.

Since the Stop Separating Families campaign’s commencement on April 22, FIRM has staged acts of civil disobedience throughout the U.S. Capitol. Most recently, FIRM members demonstrated at Speaker of the House John Boehner’s office on June 11, holding signs and wearing “Stop separating families” T-shirts. They staged a similar protest at House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office last December, and blocked the intersection of New Jersey and Independence Avenues for over half an hour on April 30. On June 28, FIRM will join with other immigrants rights organizations across the country in a wave of community rallies and canvasses. Leticia Zavala, a volunteer with the FIRM-affiliated Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, explained in a press release why she, and many others, are participating in the demonstrations:

My family is living proof of how deeply unfair and immoral the current system is. The pain and anguish that my children feel in school and at night is the result of a manufactured crisis—inaction from the President, and family-separation policies from Republicans in Congress. It hurts and it hits home for me, like it does for hundreds of thousands of families across the country. We are more driven than ever, and will not relent until Congress and the administration stop separating families.

FIRM encourages family members young and old to participate in demonstrations, and recently drew media attention for the number of minors engaged in their campaigns. Twelve-year-old Esteban Verdugo, whose father was deported to Mexico last year, was one of 17 participants arrested at the June 11 protest.  Of his time in custody, Verdugo told reporters, “It was scary, but it was worth it, going to the detention center for our rights.” FIRM blogger Kica Matos explained why young people are an important part of the movement:

Ever since FIRM ramped up activity for relief last year, our young leaders have risen to the occasion and expressed desire to continue their advocacy in the form of civil disobedience. For our families, who live with the unbearable fear of losing loved ones every day, this is an empowering way to protest a broken system that works to break families apart.

Photo of protesters courtesy of Fair Immigration Reform Movement website.

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Emily Shugerman is a politics major at Occidental College and an intern at Ms. Follow her on Twitter.

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