One day after Pres. Barack Obama’s inauguration, demonstrations were held across the country to remind the president of his promise to address immigration reform in the first year of his administration. Protesters in Washington D.C. and several other cities also called for an immediate end to government raids aimed a rounding up undocumented immigrants.
“Immigrants who lent President Barack Obama their support at the ballot box joined those who cannot vote in marches and prayers, writing letters and raising banners from Miami to Los Angeles to push the issue to the top of Obama’s long to-do list,” The Associated Press‘ Juliana Barbassa reported.
The demonstrations were more of a friendly reminder to the new president from activists who don’t want the issue to be forgotten in the din of the economic crisis. “He was the one who told us that you can dream big,” Altagracia Garcia, 25, told Barbassa at a pre-dawn vigil in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Los Angeles, where demonstrators lit candles and called for and end to immigration enforcement raids.
“Immigrant advocates know their nativist opponents plan to deploy online organizing and viral communication to counter any attempts at immigration reform this year. They intend to seize every opportunity to build momentum on their side,” Marcelo Ballvé wrote for New America Media after covering the demonstration in front of ICE national headquarters in Washington D.C.
“It’s an opportunity to celebrate, but also to point forward to the great need for immigration reform in the months ahead,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, told Ballvé.
The D.C. demonstration featured religious leaders from across the country who conducted a “cleansing” of the ICE building in a symbolic attempt to steer the agency away from the enforcement-only approach that’s been highly criticized by pro-immigrant groups.
Activists also “urged Obama to make good on his campaign promise to push through a legalization plan similar to one that former president George W. Bush twice tried unsuccessfully to get through Congress,” The Washington Post reported.
About two dozen people prayed in front of the ICE office in Atlanta to call for the end of a partnership between federal immigration officials and local sheriffs intended to speed up deportations, Public Broadcasting Atlanta said.
In San Antonio, local protesters were joined by others from Austin in front of the ICE building. “Just like he promised to close Guantánamo Bay, we want him to close down Hutto with detained little children,” said Luissana Santibáñez, of the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, referring to the ICE family detention center northeast of Austin, according to the San Antonio Express-News. The T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center has been strongly criticized for the treatment detained families receive there. (Obama yesterday signed an order to close the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay within a year.)
In San Francisco, immigrants and their allies surprised attendees to the opening night gala of the San Francisco Ballet, the Chronicle reported. “With the new administration, there’s hope; that’s why we’re here,” said protester Lulu Rodriguez, 28.
The Chronicle’s Tyche Hendricks added,
As Ballet supporters sipped wine in the City Hall rotunda, the voices of the protesters singing Mexican folk songs outside the mayor’s office echoed off the building’s stone walls.
Obama’s hometown also saw calls for him to start working on immigration reform. Members of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities held a press conference where they announced a letter to President Obama calling for changes. “They want a halt on all residential and workplace raids as well as stopping immigration enforcement that results in the separation of US children from their immigrant parents,” WLS-TV reported.
“We want him to comply with his promise of legalization for everybody,” Sylvia Cardona, a Comité Latino member, told The Desert Sun in Indio. “Latinos are putting their hopes in Obama.”