A group of immigrant activists gathered outside the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) federal immigration agency on Wednesday, calling for an end to what they perceived to be the indiscriminate deportation of immigrants.
Holding banners calling out the Trump administration’s anti-immigration agenda, frustrated demonstrators stood on the sidewalk outside DHS headquarters chanting, “When we see our communities are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!”
The protest came in response to the high-profile deportation of Juan Manuel Montes, a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant granted deportation relief and work authorization under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative. The DACA status does not completely prevent deportation, but the designation does put beneficiaries on a much lower enforcement priority for federal immigration officials. Immigration agents are asked to exercise discretion when they come in contact with DACA recipients. They are instead asked to pursue immigrants who commit serious offenses.
The DHS agency in February repatriated Montes back to Mexico, a country he hasn’t seen since he was nine years old. Montes is likely the first active DACA status holder to be expelled from the United States, an event that has incited rage and fear among immigrant communities and DACA recipients.
“We won’t allow this administration to keep criminalizing us,” an organizer said, shouting into a megaphone at the rally, urging people to use Montes’ deportation as a call to action to fight for immigrant rights.
“It’s so incredibly sad that this is normal in our community,” Deyanira Aldana, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient said at the rally. She explained that nationwide immigration raids since Trump took office have made her fearful her undocumented family could also be arrested at any time, prompting her to implore them to drive more carefully and to text her after they got home.
“Our community should not have to live in fear every single day of their lives,” Aldana said. “My mother deserves to go home, go to the store, and not have to watch if the migra [immigration agents] is following her.”
Tensions have been particularly high among DACA recipients who fear Montes’ deportation could signal a massive change in immigration enforcement policy. Although President Trump has signed executive orders broadening the type of crimes punishable by deportation, he has also said he has a soft spot for undocumented immigrants who enter the country as children. He has not rescinded the DACA initiative as he said he would on the campaign, but any changes would have big implications for the program’s 770,477 beneficiaries.
Since Trump took office, at least ten immigrants brought to the country as children have been detained — often for long periods of time — and released from detention only after media and advocacy outcry. DHS Secretary John Kelly pointedly told lawmakers and critics Tuesday they should have the “courage and skills to change those laws” which his agency enforces or “shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions has similarly taken a hard line approaches to undocumented immigrants, directing harsher penalties for border-crossers. And Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who previously said undocumented immigrants had “cantaloupe-sized calves,” sent out a particularly disturbing tweet celebrating border agents for Montes’ deportation.
“Look at our humanity,” Aldana implored federal workers who began trickling out of the DHS headquarter after work. “We’re here to tell Secretary Kelly that we will not shut up.”