Immigrant rights activists, including some self-identified illegal immigrants, were arrested outside the White House on Monday as part of a protest against President Obama’s deportation policies, signaling that even as Republicans take blame for halting legalization legislation, Democrats face political peril, too.
Mr. Obama was out of town, playing golf in California, so he wasn’t at the White House during the protests outside the North Lawn, on the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue.
With action on immigration stalled in Congress, attention is turning back to the administration. Activists say Mr. Obama needs to expand his nondeportation policy, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, beyond young adults to include most of the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
“We are grateful for DACA, but it is not enough,” said Bishop Minerva Carcano, the first Hispanic woman to become a bishop in the United Methodist Church.
The protests were led by religious leaders and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
More than 30 activists and illegal immigrants gathered in front of the White House chanting slogans, singing hymns and displaying signs to protest deportations.
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After repeated warnings, the U.S. Park Police — who had been alerted to the protest and had more than a dozen vehicles at the ready — moved in and began to gently arrest the protesters. Officers used plastic hand restraints and took the protesters to a table set up on the street for processing.
The process was clinical. Ahead of time, protest organizers walked throughout the crowd asking who would be part of “CD” — shorthand for civil disobedience.
Several of the immigrants said they would start a hunger strike to bring attention to deportations.
“We are not criminals. We are decent people who have a right like anyone else to a decent life,” said Pilar Molina, a Pennsylvania woman whose husband is being held pending deportation.
The demonstration marks at least the third time activists have protested and been arrested outside the White House in recent years, as Mr. Obama comes under more pressure to take unilateral action to stop deportations.
Mr. Obama has overseen record levels of deportations, with ICE removing about 2 million people since he took office in January 2009.
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Combined with the lack of action on Capitol Hill, the deportations have immigrant rights activists furious.
They argue that Mr. Obama has established a deportation quota of about 400,000 a year. The president is having trouble filling that quota with criminals, the activists say, so he has resorted to deporting illegal immigrants with no criminal records and deep ties to family in the U.S.
Mr. Obama has said repeatedly that he doesn’t have the authority to expand his policy but is trying to focus deportations only on those with long criminal records or who returned to the U.S. after previous deportations.
Those who want a crackdown on immigration question the administration’s numbers. They argue that immigration agents under Mr. Obama are deporting few people from within the U.S. but are boosting numbers with new arrivals at the border — people who used to be returned to their home countries quickly rather than put through full deportation proceedings.
Also Monday, Fox News reported that the acting director of the agency in charge of deportations is resigning after five months.
Congressional Republicans were questioning whether he had the background to oversee U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The White House says it is trying to let Congress grapple with the issue. After breathing life into the process by releasing principles for a broad overhaul, House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, dashed those hopes two weeks ago by saying Republicans didn’t trust Mr. Obama to enforce the laws Congress would pass.
“We have laid out our principles on this and we now believe it’s up to Congress to work its will,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters traveling with Mr. Obama ahead of his vacation weekend.
“We’ve actually said we’re going to step back. The president’s position on this has been very clear. He’s laid out his principles, so we’re going to take a step back.”
Republicans remain divided.
House Republicans appear reluctant, but Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who has long pushed his party to act and who led the bipartisan effort to get a legalization bill through the Senate last year, said the party risks isolation if it does nothing.
“It’s time for those people to weigh in and bring pressure to bear,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “I would again urge my House colleagues to consider whatever way they want to pursue to try to address this issue because it’s going to have to be addressed, and to wait till 2015 when we’re now involved in Republican primaries obviously would not be a viable scenario.”