Authorities arrested and then released seven illegal immigrants who handcuffed themselves to the White House fence on Wednesday, the latest escalation of activists' call for President Obama to stop all deportations and unilaterally grant illegal immigrants tentative legal status.
The immigrants said they were protesting Mr. Obama's statement Tuesday that he will not issue a new order halting deportations. Mr. Obama told Telemundo, a Spanish-language network, that was "not an option."
"Stop deportations — not one more," activists chanted as they watched police surround the seven immigrants and arrest them on the north side of the White House, along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Secret Service didn't return calls seeking comment on the arrests, but immigrant-rights activists said they were charged with failing to obey an order and were fined and released.
It was unclear whether immigration authorities were ever notified of the arrests.
Among the seven arrested were three from Arizona, two from Atlanta, one from New Orleans and one from New York. They said they were motivated by stories of families that have been split apart after one person in the family was deported.
Deportations have been a tricky issue for Mr. Obama.
He has set records by deporting about 400,000 people a year from the country, arguing to conservatives that he is serious about enforcing immigration laws.
But at the same time his administration has issued memos ordering agents not to go after illegal immigrants unless they have deep criminal records or are repeat immigration violators.
That should leave most rank-and-file illegal immigrants in little danger of being deported.
However, a report Monday by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse suggests the administration's deportation efforts are increasingly missing their mark.
TRAC traced the number of detainers placed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on immigrants the agency wants to put in deportation proceedings. For the first four months of 2013, roughly half of those ICE targeted had no criminal conviction — not even a minor traffic violation, it said.
If traffic violations — including driving while intoxicated — and marijuana possession cases are removed, the number with no other serious criminal record rose to two-thirds of all cases.
Immigrant-rights advocates have long argued that deportations are going beyond hardened criminals. They say in order to deport 400,000 a year, that means 1,200 are being removed every day.
Throughout Mr. Obama's first term, the activists called on him to use executive authority to stop deporting young illegal immigrants, or so-called Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. as young children.
Mr. Obama resisted for years, but five months before election day, facing sagging support among Hispanics, he changed his stance and issued a new policy granting many young illegal immigrants tentative legal status and work permits.
After that previous reversal, activists hope — and some expect — Mr. Obama to change his mind this year and expand his stay of deportations to include almost all illegal immigrants.
"When he said he didn't have the power to stop deporting Dreamers, we built a powerful case with grass-roots pressure and legal analysis and won a monumental victory with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," said Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream. "He does have the power to stop deportations, and we will keep challenging him."
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