Wisconsin protesters respond to Obama decision to delay review of deportations

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President Barack Obama. - PHOTO: Courtesy

A rally took place on May 29 in Milwaukee to protest President Barack Obama's decision to ask his Homeland Security chief to hold off on completing a review of U.S. deportation policies until the end of the summer.

The White House said the request was a move aimed at salvaging any hopes for Congress to act on immigration this year, but immigration rights activists said more deportations will lead to more raids, stings and arrests and the continued separation of families.

Milwaukee-based Voces de la Frontera reported that on May 26, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested and detained approximately 21 undocumented people from their homes and workplaces across Milwaukee.

A demonstration took place on May 29 outside the ICE office on Knapp Street and Broadway in downtown Milwaukee to protest the arrests and the delay in reform from the Obama administration. 

"No family should have to endure this kind of harassment,” said Silvia Juarez, whose cousin Epigmenio Martinez-Ruiz was taken this week to the Dodge County detention center. Epigmenio has no criminal record and a daughter, 8-year-old Tatiana, who is a U.S. citizen. He came to the United States before 2001, and has been working the past decade as a foundry worker in Milwaukee.

”Every day our office sees families like those affected by Tuesday’s raids who are reeling from these attacks," said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, in a statement.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, and other members of the Congress wrote Johnson, asking him to address the problem of ICE targeting suspected undocumented immigrants at courthouses. People arriving to the court house for hearings and appearances for traffic citations or other matters are being detained for questioning and investigations that in some cases lead to deportation.

“My colleagues and I sent a strong message that people accessing our courthouses should be safe from profiling, fear, and intimidation," Moore said. “By targeting courthouses, ICE is exacerbating the culture of fear in our immigrant communities and undermining public safety. Like schools, hospitals, and places of worship, courthouses should be protected from immigration profiling tactics. I am proud that my colleagues stood with me to promote open access to our court system.”

Obama in March directed the government to examine whether deportation practices can be made more humane, seeking to pacify frustrated immigration advocates. But that step emboldened House Republicans to argue they can't trust Obama to enforce the law, and that bypassing lawmakers through executive action would deliver a death knell to the broader immigration overhaul that Obama and Democrats are seeking.

Now Obama is seeking to preserve what the White House sees as a narrow window in June and July in which Congress could conceivably act before Washington's focus becomes consumed by the November midterm elections. "The president really wants to maximize the opportunity to get a permanent solution enacted, which requires Congress," said Cecilia Munoz, the director of the White House's Domestic Policy Council.

"We've got maybe a window of two, three months to get the ball rolling in the House of Representatives," Obama said earlier this month.

That window, White House officials said, has opened now that primary elections have wrapped up in many states where Republican incumbents are being challenged by tea party candidates who oppose an immigration overhaul. But a make-or-break deadline comes when lawmakers leave Washington for a monthlong August recess to focus on campaigning.

In Denver this week, Vice President Joe Biden made similar remarks about Republican opposition to immigration reform and reluctance to deal with legislation during campaigns.

"They've got their chance now," Biden said. "Most of the primaries are over."

But immigration advocates and Democrats have urged Obama to take immediate executive action in the face of congressional procrastination. 

Obama informed Johnson of his decision to delay the review during a White House meeting last week in which Johnson updated the president on the review's progress, a senior White House official said. Homeland Security will continue working on the review but won't release the results until the window for congressional action has closed, said the official, who wasn't authorized to comment by name and demanded anonymity.

Obama's announcement came the same day a coalition of groups backing an immigration overhaul asked Obama to hold off in order to "give the House leadership all of the space they may need." Among the groups urging Obama to delay were the National Immigration Forum, the Service Employees International Union and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

On the congressional front, the Senate last year passed a comprehensive bill with bipartisan support that Obama says meets his criteria for what an immigration fix must include. Republicans have refused to take up that bill, saying they preferred their own piecemeal approach. But House GOP leadership has made no move to bring legislation to a vote. And last week, GOP leaders last week blocked any votes on immigration legislation - including one offered as an amendment by a Republican - in yet another ominous sign for immigration's prospects.

Johnson has offered few details about what potential policy changes he's considering or what the timeline for acting might be. But Obama has previously taken modest executive steps to ease deportation. Two years ago, he offered protection from deportation and extended work permits to some immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Johnson has said he's reviewing a possible expansion of that program, but he and Obama have both cautioned that the government is constrained in what it can do without Congress.