Orange County-based activists joined a nationwide day of demonstrations Saturday, calling on President Obama to halt deportations of undocumented immigrants and expand a relief program that currently applies to people who came to the U.S. as children.
Demonstrators held signs from bridges above Interstate 5 in Santa Ana and Anaheim as well as along Route 55 in Costa Mesa, chanting slogans such as “Liberation, not deportation,” and “We’re fired up, can’t take it no more.”
“Over 70 cities in the country are coming out today to stand up to the president and to say enough is enough,” said Hairo Cortes, an organizer with the Orange County DREAM Team.
“We have suffered 2 million deportations under your administration, and we’re not going to take it any more.”
Demonstrators are also targeting their message at U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Anaheim, who represents one of the nation’s most heavily Latino districts: central Orange County.
They called on Sanchez to publicly push Obama to stop deportations and expand his deferred action program to all undocumented people in the country.
“We hope that it doesn’t take another 2 million deportations for the congresswoman to finally say enough is enough … and speak to [the president] about the devastation that his deportation policies are causing,” Cortes said during a news conference outside Sanchez’s district office in Garden Grove.
Sanchez couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday afternoon.
At Saturday’s news conference, Cal State Fullerton student Dulce Saavedra said ICE agents came to her home to arrest her father and ultimately deport him to Tijuana.
“It was pretty traumatizing,” said Saavedra, a Santa Ana resident and U.S. citizen.
“How do you tell your siblings that are 7, 8 [years old] … ’Oh, your dad was taken away, and he’s not coming back”? she said. “How do you explain that your family just got ripped apart?”
“I think this is the case for so many other people in our community and Loretta Sanchez’s district. And she needs to be representative of her community.”
Another Santa Ana resident, Patricia Reza, said her husband, a father of six, was deported to Tijuana in 2007 and disappeared shortly after.
“To this day, they do not know what happened to him,” Cortes said of Reza’s husband. “They have no information about his whereabouts.”
With her husband still missing, Reza has had to support their six children by herself, Cortes said.
Several Asian students from UC Irvine also joined Saturday’s protests.
“I am an undocumented student, and I think we should stand up for our rights,” said Amy Yu, adding that she came to the U.S. from Hong Kong when she was seven.
Deferred action, also known as DACA, grants temporary legal status for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and don’t have a serious criminal record.
With little sign that Congress will pass immigration reform this year, many activists have turned to calling for President Obama to use his executive authority to expand deferred action.
The president, meanwhile, has said he lacks the constitutional authority to halt deportations without a new law from Congress.
In response, reform advocates with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network have filed a petition with the Department of Homeland Security arguing that the president does have discretion to make such a move.
When it comes to reform efforts, the activists said Sanchez has voiced support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Sanchez’s website, meanwhile, lists the following as her position on immigration reform:
Congresswoman Sanchez believes that all immigration policies must be viewed through the lens of national security. She strongly believes that immigration legislation is in need of broad reform and that meaningful efforts must be made to stop human trafficking across our borders. To that end, she strongly supports full funding of the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, a cost-effective measure designed to identify and remove criminal aliens in the United States.”
The criminal alien program provides federal compensation to state and local agencies for detaining undocumented immigrants convicted of state and local crimes.
Sanchez also serves on the Homeland Security Committee, which oversees the federal agency that carries out deportations: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE.
Her district has one of the highest rates of Latino residents — 66 percent — of any congressional district in the country.
Santa Ana in particular is 78-percent Hispanic, ranking it behind El Paso, Texas, as the second most-Latino city in America of its size or larger.
Activists planned to end their demonstrations Saturday with a vigil in San Juan Capistrano, where they said ICE agents recently raided a supermarket.
The current policy, Saavedra said, “will continue to break up more families if we don’t stop this.”