WASHINGTON – Katherine Figueroa was 9 and watching television reports of a workplace raid in Phoenix when she saw video of her parents being hauled away by sheriff’s deputies.
They were eventually released, but the episode was jarring enough that Katherine, now 13, and her parents traveled to Washington to lobby lawmakers and rally with others Wednesday outside the White House against further deportations.
About 100 immigrants who are in the country illegally converged on the White House as part of a project called #Not1More, to sing, march and chant for their cause.
“Their dream is to be here,” Katherine said of her parents, at a Capitol Hill briefing with congressional staff.
Nearly a dozen Arizonans took part in the rally to call for comprehensive immigration reform and an end to “Secure Communities,” an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program that checks immigration status and criminal histories of people who are arrested.
But Secure Communities advocates said the program only detects and deports criminals. People nabbed by the program are those involved with criminal behavior like gang or drug activity, they said.
“It’s not true to say that harmless people who are going to work each day are being swept up,” said Jessica Vaughn, the director of policy studies at Center for Immigration Studies.
She dismissed the protester’s call for the president to halt deportations, saying he does not have the authority to do so. And it is unrealistic to think the president would deter deportation of people here illegally, Vaughn said, adding that the House and the general public do not support such action.
Immigration reform should focus on local and state enforcement, and should require all employers to use E-Verify, the system that detects if a person is eligible to work in the United States, she said.
But Jennifer Hernandez, a rising high school junior, recalled taking a family trip from Phoenix to California when border patrol agents stopped their car and asked the immigration status of everyone inside. Everyone was a U.S. citizen except Jennifer’s mom – agents ordered her out of the car and arrested her.
“I just remember her crying because she knew she was not going to be with us for a while,” Hernandez said Wednesday outside the White House.
Hernandez’s mom was in an ICE detention center for six months. It was hard for to wake up every morning and go to bed every night without being able to say good morning or good night, the teenager said.
“When you think of someone being locked up, you think of someone doing something wrong,” Hernandez said. “But I know my mom didn’t do anything wrong. She wasn’t doing anything to hurt her community.”
Katherine was separated from her parents for three months, but said it is still painful four years later. Tears built up and she began crying Wednesday, pausing to gain her composure.
“I felt lonely and I felt like I had no one with me,” she said of the time while her parents were in custody.
Katherine’s father, Carlos, proudly snapped a photo of his daughter at the rally. Her mother, Sandra, looked on with tears in her eyes as well.
Also outside the White House, Guadalupe Garcia said she came to this country in 1995 at age 14. For years, she remained undetected. She got married and had two children, now 11 and 12 years old.
But Garcia was eventually arrested in a workplace raid in Mesa. She was released, but arrested again later after ICE went through old records. They came to her home where her son watched as she was walked away in handcuffs, Garcia said.
Since then, Garcia has been released and granted a one year deportation deferral.
Garcia hopes President Barack Obama will defer deportation, so she can be with her children and family, and so others don’t have to go through what she did. But she is not sure if Obama will take such action.
“No se,” she said through an interpreter, as she looked toward the White House. “I don’t know.”