Immigrant rights activists blocked a deportation office in Fairfax County on Monday morning in protest of Congress' failure to pass a bill legalizing illegal immigrants.
Chanting slogans, the protesters sat in the driveway of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office just off the Beltway and Interstate 66 in Fairfax, effectively preventing a bus from getting through. The activists said they were hoping to halt deportations of folks on the bus.
The protesters called on President Obama to stop removing immigrants until Capitol Hill acts. They mocked the president, saying his claim that he doesn't have the power to halt deportations is "a lie."
"What do we want? Shut down ICE. When do we want it? Now," the protesters shouted in a call-and-response.
Some of them had their hands chained together inside of tubes to make it more difficult to cut them apart and remove them.
About three hours after the demonstration began, the protesters were taken away by police. They were released by 1 p.m.
But just as the Fairfax protest was being broken up, activists in the Los Angeles area began their own event to block deportations at an office there.
In a statement, ICE said it respected the protesters' rights.
"We recognize that our nation's broken immigration system requires serious solutions, and we fully support comprehensive immigration reform efforts," the agency said. "ICE remains committed to sensible, effective immigration enforcement that focuses first on convicted criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety."
Over the past two months, activists have blocked or delayed deportations in a dozen cities across the country, including in Mr. Obama's hometown of Chicago and in several locations in Arizona, which is ground zero for the immigration debate.
"Blaming Republicans can't stop the suffering in immigrant communities. But the president can," Rosa Lozano, one of the protesters, said in a statement issued by organizers. "With the stroke of a pen, he could end his deportation quota and expand relief like he did for dreamers."
The activists point to Mr. Obama's election-year decision to halt deportations for some young illegal immigrants — who call themselves Dreamers after the Dream Act legislation — as a model. They say the president has the power to expand that nondeportation policy to most other illegal immigrants.
Mr. Obama has repeatedly said he doesn't have that broad a grant of authority — though before he used his powers for the dreamers he also repeatedly denied that he could do that.
The Homeland Security Department says it is funded to deport about 400,000 people every year and it has to fulfill that number. It is mandated by law to detain about 32,000 immigrants awaiting deportation on a daily basis. The activists argue that both quotas are counterproductive.
Homeland Security hasn't released its fiscal year 2013 totals, but data leaked to the Center for Immigration Studies this year showed the department had fallen short of its 400,000 target for deportations.
The Obama administration says it tries to focus its deportations on illegal immigrants with serious criminal records or those who have already been deported and yet return to the U.S. in defiance of their removal.
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