Outraged by deportations, immigrant rights activists in the U.S. and Europe are turning to direct action to halt the forced removal of migrants. And increasingly, undocumented immigrants themselves are willing to put their bodies on the line and risk deportation to force a change in national policies.
In the latest U.S. action, more than 100 immigrants and supporters conducted an October 17 sit-in at Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in San Francisco, blocking a bus with detainees destined for deportation.
“Undocumented, unafraid,” chanted a group of youthful protestors.
“I’ve been in that bus before, and I remember how powerless I felt, said Dean Santos, youth leader of the Asian/Pacific Islander organization ASPIRE. “Now, I’m coming back with the power of our communities in an effort to stop the separation of families.”
Father Richard Smith, Vicar of St. John the Evangelist, also participated in the direct action. Quoted in a press release from the Dream Action Coalition, Father Smith expressed the personal and religious motivations of his action, telling the story of a congregation member who was detained and separated from two young boys that did not know their mother’s whereabouts until she called them from Mexico ten days later.
“It’s stories like these I hear over and over again in my neighborhood, and they break my heart…Jesus himself said whomever welcomes the stranger, the immigrant, welcomes Him.”
The San Francisco action was the most recent in a growing wave of direct actions organized by immigrant youth activists and their allies since the summer. Earlier protests included the reentry and detention of the
Dream 9 and Dream 30 at the borders of Arizona and Texas, respectively, as well as the blocking of detainee transport buses and the temporary shutdown of an immigration court in Phoenix and Tucson this month.
Camila Ibanez, the U.S. born daughter of Bolivian immigrants and a New York activist, published an essay this past week on the movement that’s gelled into the #Not1More campaign.
The Phoenix action, Ibanez wrote, was part of the national campaign aimed at “pressuring President Obama to take administrative relief and put a stop to deportations.”
According to the Dream Action Coalition, deportations under the Obama administration are nearing the “milestone” of 2,000,000 people, or slightly less than the entire population of New Mexico.
Combined with the October 5 mass demonstrations of tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies in nearly 200 U.S. cities and ongoing lobbying by advocates, the direct action movement is ratcheting up pressure on Washington to take action on immigration reform.
The impact of a reinvigorated movement was evident in the tone of President Obama’s October 17 speech in which he called on Congress to pass immigration reform legislation that includes a path to citizenship as one of three legislative priorities before the end of the year.
Obama repeated the message in his October 19 weekly address.
“The Senate has already approved the legislation with strong bipartisan support. The House should also do it,” the President said. “The majority of people that live in the United States believe that this is the correct path. It can and must be done by the end of this year.”
Whether lawmakers will rise up to the occasion is another matter altogether. As the dust settled from the drawn-out confrontation over the budget and debt ceiling, the House packed up its bags for a few days and the Senate took a week off from business.
In France, meanwhile, thousands of high school students staged demonstrations and barricaded several schools last week after the deportation of a classmate to Kosovo triggered a new movement and a political crisis for the government of Socialist President Francois Hollande.
The deportation of Leonarda Dibrani, a 17-year-old of Roma (Gypsy) ancestry, has focused attention on French deportation practices, as well as Interior Minister Manuel Valls, an immigrant from Spain who became a naturalized French citizen 20 years ago.
Recently, Valls made controversial remarks about the presence of the Roma in France. Demonstrators demand the return of Dibrani and another deportee, 19-year-old Khatchik Kachatryan of Armenia. According to
the French Union of Secondary Students, thousands have participated in demonstrations in Paris, Marseille and other cities.
Interviewed by the foreign press from Kosovo, Dibrani echoed the words of some young immigrants forced to return to Mexico from the United States. “I don’t speak the language here (in Kosovo) and I don’t know anyone,” Dibrani said. “I just want to go back to France and forget everything that happened.”
In the wake of growing protest, Hollande’s government is reportedly reviewing Dibrani’s deportation.
Additional sources: Ktvu.com, October 18, 2013, NPR.org, October 18, 2013. La Jornada/AP/AFP, October 18, 2013. Mexican Editorial Organization/AFP, October 17 and 18, 2013. San Francisco Bay Guardian, October 17, 2013. Article by Rebecca Bowe. Commondreams.org, October 17, 2013. Articles by Camila Ibanez and Sarah Lazare.