Activists attempted to disrupt operations at a federal immigration office in Fairfax, Va., on Monday morning, the latest in a string of actions meant to call attention to the impact of deportations across the country.
The responsibility for those deportations, in the eyes of protestors, falls on one person: President Barack Obama.
“We are here because we think that Obama has the total power to stop deportations, and he’s choosing to not stop them,“ one of the activists said on a livestream of the action.
The focus on President Obama isn’t new — deportations have reached historic highs under his leadership. But it carries more weight now, since the House of Representatives wrapped up business for the year on Friday, formally ending the chances for an immigration reform bill in 2013.
There’s a small window for legislation to pass after the 2014 Republican primary elections. Otherwise, the best odds for an immigration overhaul will be after the presidential election in 2016.
That amplifies the pressure on Obama to take executive action.
There’s a precedent, too. Congress failed to pass immigration legislation during the president’s first term, which led the White House to enact a deportation relief program that allows certain young people to live and work in the U.S. legally.
Whether Obama will expand that program is questionable. When asked by Univision’s Maria Elena Salinas about a moratorium on deportations of non-criminals, he said, “I am not a king.”
But experts believe there’s leeway for the president to offer more relief, perhaps to family members of the young people who qualify for the existing relief program.
Activists at the protest on Monday formed a human chain meant to block traffic at the offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency in charge of removing undocumented immigrants from the country. The action was organized through the #Not1More Deportation campaign, a project of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
An ICE official said the office remained open and running as usual.
The agency also voiced its support for the stalled immigration reform effort in Congress.
“ICE fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference,” spokesperson Brandon A. Montgomery said in a statement. “We recognize that our nation’s broken immigration system requires serious solutions, and we fully support comprehensive immigration reform efforts.”