PHOENIX (AP) – Immigration advocates and supporters rallied Saturday in cities across the country in a renewed effort to push President Barack Obama to put a freeze on deportations.
Organizers of the more than 50 planned "Day of Action" demonstrations said Obama has the executive power to stop deportations that separate immigrants living in the country illegally from their loved ones.
In Eloy, Ariz., more than 100 supporters converged in front of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center after journeying more than 60 miles from Phoenix.
Natally Cruz, an organizer with the grassroots group Puente Arizona, said many of the people in attendance have relatives who have been inside the facility for more than a year.
"We want President Obama and his administration to really hear our community members across the country, to understand we do not want one more person separated," said Cruz, who entered the U.S. at age 8 illegally with her parents. "One family every night goes to bed missing somebody in their family."
Many walked with signs saying "Not 1 More Deportation" and calling for deferred deportation action for all. The group included a woman whose son has been in the Eloy Detention Center for nearly three years and a woman who was arrested at her work and detained for two months, the group said.
The Eloy Police Department had about five officers monitoring the rally. Sgt. Brian Jerome said the demonstration was relatively peaceful with no arrests.
Amber Cargile, an ICE spokeswoman in Phoenix, said the agency respects the rights of people to protest outside its facilities.
"While we continue to work with Congress to enact commonsense immigration reform, ICE remains committed to sensible, effective immigration enforcement that focuses on its priorities, including convicted criminals and those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States," Cargile said.
More than 50 people, including families with children, stood in front of a federal immigration office in New York City. Among them was 47-year-old Humayun Chowdhury, a cab driver who said his family suffered immensely when authorities held him for 14 months.
"I got out to my family because my community helped," said Chowdhury, who is from Bangladesh.
Chowdhury now has a permit to work in the U.S. and he hopes to get a green card in the future. His 14-year-old son, Maheen, said he was 11 when immigration authorities showed up to arrest his father at 5 a.m. According to Maheen, the separation put the entire family in a tailspin.
"Everything was a mess. We had trouble getting food. My mom just cried all the time. We had to sell our car for money," said Maheen Chowdhury, who was born in the U.S.
The Chowdhurys said they don't want others to suffer the same pain and that there should be a way for immigrants without criminal records to stay in the country.
In Hartford, Conn., dozens of immigrants gathered in front of a federal building after coming from 11 cities across the state. Many say they were angered into action by the refusal of Republicans in Congress to work on immigration reforms. Protesters included Jasmine Mendoza, of Norwalk, Conn., whose husband was deported after a routine traffic stop. Mendoza said she is raising their 8-month-old son alone.
Protests were planned in California a day after 23 demonstrators were arrested in San Francisco for blocking traffic in a major intersection.
In March, Obama asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to review enforcement practices to ease his administration's rate of deportations.
Under Obama's leadership, almost 2 million people have been removed from the U.S.