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Can President Obama Do More to Stop Deportations?

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A heckler challenges Obama to do more to stop deportations, but does the president have the authority to do so?


JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

During a speech, President Obama was talking about comprehensive immigration reform. President Obama was interrupted, though, by a guest who was a part of the White House-approved backdrop. The young man shouted to the president that he should halt deportation. Let’s take a look at what unfolded.


DESVARIEUX: “Actually, I don’t, and that’s why we’re here.” That’s what the president had to say about his authority to stop deportations. But is it true?

What we do know is that the president can in fact stop deportations, since he’s already done it. The Department of Homeland Security announced the halting of deportations for spouses, children, and parents of Armed Forces personnel.

Nearly 2 million people have been deported during the Obama administration, which according to The New York Times is about the same number of deportations in the U.S. from 1892 to 1997.

Now joining us to unpack all this are our two guests.

Our first guest is Catalina Nieto, who is the field director of the Detention Watch Network.

And we also have David Bacon joining us from California. He’s an award-winning photojournalist, author, and immigrant rights activist who has spent over 20 years as a labor organizer.

Thank you both for joining us.


DESVARIEUX: So President Obama has in fact said that he can’t halt the deportation of some undocumented immigrants, as I mentioned. But we have seen this happen before. The president actually halted the deportation of DREAM Act eligible undocumented immigrants.

So I want to get both of your reactions. But let me first start off with Catalina. What was your response to what the president had to say?

CATALINA NIETO, FIELD DIRECTOR, DETENTION WATCH NETWORK: Well, the president keeps saying that the immigration laws, the immigration system in this country is broken. But he is refusing to take action.

I think what happened during his speech was so necessary. You know, this is one of many actions that people are taking right now to really ask the Obama administration to ask Congress to take responsibility for what’s happening right now.

Our communities are being criminalized. They’re being detained and deported. And the truth is that these cannot happen anymore. It’s immoral. It’s unjust. It’s inhumane. And we have people that are taking risks every day that are now calling on President Obama to stop.

And he has that power, as you said. He granted deferred action for undocumented youth. He just said that he will stop deportation of military families. That means that he can also put an end to detention and deportation.

DESVARIEUX: David, what’s your take?

BACON: Well, first of all, I think that what this young man is asking for is just, and it’s well within the president’s power to grant it. He is part of a much larger movement that includes, today, people sitting down in front of buses carrying people to deportation or sitting down in front of the gates of the detention centers.

But I think also what the president did is not really right. He essentially used deportations as a kind of a political football to tell people that we had to agree to what is basically a very deeply flawed immigration reform proposal in the Senate, and even worse proposals in the House, which would, first of all—under which millions of people would remain deportable, even if these bills passed, because of the restrictions on legalization there. More people who are undocumented would come, because we’re not dealing with the free trade agreements and the other reasons why people are displaced and forced to come to the United States to begin with. And these bills all set up big new bracero type contract labor programs, essentially saying to people, if you want to come to the United States and you don’t want to get deported, you have to come as a guest worker, or a bracero. I don’t think that this is a legitimate way to pass legislation to deport people and say that the only way to stop the deportations is to pass these kind of bills.

DESVARIEUX: But at the end of the day, you’ll have people saying, these people broke the law, so a country has a right to determine who’s in and who they’re going to allow to be living there. So, Catalina, why should the president not deport people who have broken the law?

NIETO: Well, I mean, I think we need to start seeing it in a very different way. The reality is that we have laws that are completely unjust, that I would say that the laws are the ones that are criminal. We have laws like mandatory detention that—it’s making it easier for the government to deport people, people that have criminal convictions. We have laws that criminalize our community for doing everyday activities like going to work, driving.

And then not only that, but then while people are in the deportation proceedings, this law makes them have to be locked up in a cage. That’s what this country’s doing right now. They’re locking people up in cages while they’re having to be deported. And they put them completely away from their communities, from their families, without any support and in very, very abusive circumstances in these detention centers, where companies are making so much profit off of having people in detention, for example.

So I think there has to be a major shift in this country in terms of how we’re treating immigrants and allowing people to be here, be safe, as well as changing the laws that are forcing people to have to migrate in the first place.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. And it’s important to note that in President Obama’s speech on Monday, he was pushing for the Senate immigration bill and he wants the House to take up that bill. But he’s also okay with a sort of piecemeal approach.

David, I want to get your opinion. Do you find this to be problematic? What type of legislation do you think at the end of the day is going to end up being passed?

BACON: Well, I think that we need a legalization program that is much more inclusive than what’s on the table with the Senate bill. And, of course, there is no legalization proposal in the House that’s likely to see passage any time soon.

When the president’s talking about a piecemeal approach, what he’s talking about is the House of Representatives passing individual bills that would increase enforcement, other bills that are in the House already that would greatly expand the guest worker programs. These programs were called “close to slavery” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Those bills are on the floor of the House right now. There are the votes in the House to pass these bills. There is no standalone legalization bill in the House of Representatives. And even if there were, Boehner would not agree to a vote on it. So by saying that we want piecemeal immigration reform, what we’re actually likely to get out of it in the House is increased enforcement, increased guest worker programs, and really very, very little solutions for the problem of the 11 million people who are here without papers.

And, of course, what’s not on the table in either the House or the Senate is any change in the U.S. trade policy or the kinds of things that our government does in countries like Mexico and the Philippines that essentially make migration not a voluntary act, but something that people have to do in order to survive.

If we were really concerned about this, the first thing that we would do is we would look at the reasons why people are leaving home to begin with and, where we have some responsibility for that, do something about it.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Catalina, we’ll end with you. I want to get your take on Monday’s actions and put them into sort of the larger context. There’s been a campaign by activists to pressure President Obama and Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and halt deportations. Is there any evidence that these type of actions are succeeding?

NIETO: Well, I think we have no other choice. I think us undocumented people, we take risks every day. We engage in civil disobedience every day just by being here, by crossing borders, by overstaying visas, because we know that the laws that are in place are completely unjust and inhumane. So we have no other choice, because Obama administration and Congress is really not giving us any other choice. We want to be able to be with our families and our communities. We want to be able to work here. And we want to be able to remain in our countries if that’s what we prefer.

And we also know that right now we also have the power. And that’s what happening. We’re seeing that as communities, immigrant communities here, we do have the power to make changes that are so needed, whether it’s locking ourselves into the front door of ICE so that they suspend these activities that are violent toward our communities, whether we stop these buses that are deporting our families and our loved ones, whether we expose and speak the truth as these gentlemen did yesterday during Obama’s speech. We’re speaking the truth and we’re acting on what’s right.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Catalina Nieto, thank you so much for joining us.

NIETO: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And David Bacon, thank you for joining us again as well.

BACON: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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