A hundred or so demonstrators from around the region marched Wednesday from Capitol Hill to the White House to protest planned raids by the government to deport newly arrived immigrants who entered the country illegally.
The protesters began their march outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters on South Capitol Street, chanting “No more deportation” and holding signs bearing messages such as “You want my vote? Say no to deportations!”
“There are a lot of families in danger, if they were deported, because of the violence in their countries,” said Jennifer Romero, 19, who lives in Stafford, Va. “We are going to be out, and we are always going to keep fighting for our rights.”
The plan to deport the immigrants, which would be carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was revealed in a Washington Post report last week.
If it is approved, it would be the first major effort to deport families that have fled violence in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and other countries. More than 100,000 Central American families with children have surged across the border since last year, which doesn’t include the hundreds of minors who have made the dangerous journey without parents. The ICE operation would be aimed only at those who have already been ordered removed by immigration judges, The Post reported.
But the plan has caused a furor among immigrants, who have accused the Obama administration of betraying them. And it has reverberated in the presidential campaign, prompting concern from Democrat Hillary Clinton and denunciations from her rivals, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley.
The march was designed to give those outraged by the planned deportations a chance to respond, said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland, as he led the protest in front of ICE offices, one of the stops the marchers made as they wended their way through downtown Washington.
The protest began at DNC headquarters because Clinton needs to speak out, Torres said.
“She needs to demonstrate that she’s different from [Donald] Trump and say that we welcome these refugees. And President Obama needs to speak out as well.”
The march ended at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Torres said, because the deportation plan originated with the Obama administration.
“You say you are the president of the Latino and immigrant communities,” Torres said. “Please demonstrate that.”
At the White House, the protesters marched in a loop in front of the north entrance, where they were outnumbered by uniformed Secret Service agents, police, journalists and curious tourists, including a dozen or so on Segways. Chants of “Obama! Obama! Do not deport my mama!” drew smiles from onlookers, but other messages had a more anxious tone.
Josue, a speaker who identified himself only by his first name and who organizers said could not provide his country of origin because it would further complicate his legal status, told the protesters in front of the White House that he arrived at the end of 2013 and was on a deportation list.
“I’m panicked, and I’m afraid,” he said through a translator. “Not to just be deported, but to return to my country and be killed. President Obama wants to send me to a certain death sentence. . . . I ask President Obama to stop this inhumane plan.”
Another speaker, Sarah Hernandez, said she arrived 15 years ago from Honduras. She also pleaded for the deportation plan to be abandoned. “People are fleeing the violence [in Honduras], and now they are in danger of returning to it,” she said.
Felix Kala, a Bowie, Md., resident who came to the United States from Cameroon three years ago, told the crowd that African immigrants were there in solidarity with those from Central America.
“We are here to sympathize,” he said. “If they start sending you, tomorrow they will come for us.”