Immigrant-rights advocates’ protests against President Obama spread Monday to Phoenix, where demonstrators shut down the federal government’s main detention facility in the city and demanded the administration halt all deportations.
The demonstrators — among them illegal immigrants who said they aren’t afraid of getting arrested during the protests — said Mr. Obama should unilaterally halt all deportations and challenge Congress to finish work on a bill that would legalize most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
“Undocumented, unafraid,” they chanted as the chained themselves together outside the detention facility in Eloy, Ariz.
Hours later, they staged a march in Phoenix and then tried to block the gates at the city’s main federal immigration-enforcement office, hoping to halt any deportations that may have been going on.
A call to a spokeswoman in ICE’s Phoenix office went unanswered. Many government offices are vacant owing to the government shutdown.
Monday’s moves are the latest escalation in immigrant-rights advocates’ push to move immigration back to the political fore.
Over the past few months activists have been arrested demonstrating outside the Capitol and the White House, demanding action on legislation that would legalize illegal immigrants.
And on Friday, protesters in Tucson halted Operation Streamline, a program that convicts illegal immigrants and gives them jail time before deporting them, hoping it will be a deterrent to trying to cross illegally.
Activists are increasingly taking aim at Mr. Obama, whose administration deports about 400,000 immigrants a year.
Protesters say those being held and deported have often committed no major crimes and should qualify for Mr. Obama’s nondeportation policies. Under those policies, the federal government has said it wants to focus its efforts on immigrants with major criminal records or repeat immigration-law violators.
One of those protesting in Eloy on Monday was 16-year-old Sandy Estrada, who said her brother was being detained at the detention facility.
“I’m doing this to show my brother and all the other people inside that we support them, and we will do what it takes to get them out,” she said in a statement.
Statistics from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks federal prosecution data, back up the activists’ claims that Mr. Obama’s deportations still include many rank-and-file illegal immigrants.
TRAC said only 10.8 percent of the detainers ICE issued in the first six months of this year were for those who were serious threats to public safety or national security. Only 38 percent of those whom ICE put in deportation proceedings had a criminal record of any kind, including traffic violations.
“In fact, comparing agency data from both before and after the new ICE guidelines were issued [in December] reveals that fewer — not more — individuals on whom detainers were placed have had any record of criminal activity, let alone serious criminal conduct,” the TRAC authors wrote in a report released earlier this month.
Arizona, with its strict immigration laws, has been a focus of the activists’ ire.
The Eloy facility is privately owned and has a contract with the government to hold immigrants awaiting deportation.