Immigrant-rights activists blocked a deportation office in Fairfax County Monday morning in protest of Congress's failure to pass a bill legalizing illegal immigrants and trying to pressure President Obama to stop removing immigrants until Capitol Hill does act.
Chanting slogans, the protesters sat down 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 being able to get through. The activists said they were hoping to halt deportations of folks on the bus.
The protesters mocked Mr. Obama, calling saying it was "a lie" that he says he doesn't have the power to halt deportations.
"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 tougher to cut them apart and remove them.
About three hours after it began, the protesters were finally taken away by police. All of the protesters were released by 1 p.m.
But just as the Fairfax protest was being broken up, activists in Los Angeles 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 last two months, activists have blocked or delayed deportations in a dozen cities across the country, including in Mr. Obama's home town 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," said Rosa Lozano, one of the protesters, 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 non-deportation 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 about 32,000 immigrants awaiting deportation on a daily basis. The activists argue both are counterproductive quotas.
Homeland Security hasn't released its fiscal year 2013 totals but data leaked to the Center for Immigration Studies earlier this year showed the department had actually 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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