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Obama Immigration Raids Prompt Protests, Fasting


Protesters gather outside the White House in Washington Jan. 15, 2016, calling for an end to immigration raids. (K. Gypson/VOA)

Protesters gather outside the White House in Washington Jan. 15, 2016, calling for an end to immigration raids. (K. Gypson/VOA)

Nelson Zaragoza came to the United States 36 years ago, when Democrat Jimmy Carter was president.

He arrived illegally from El Salvador and years later earned his U.S. citizenship. But now, standing across the street from the White House in a bright yellow shirt, sunglasses and a brown hat, he is in his first day of no food.

"I think I'm going to lose some of the pounds I need to lose," he said. "At least they are going to listen."

Zaragoza and three others are fasting, in hopes the White House listens to their plea to stop recent immigration raids. Over the course of two days earlier this month, the Obama administration raided homes in three Southern states and arrested more than 120 undocumented immigrants from Central America.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the immigrants who are being deported have exhausted their legal remedies, and the administration is targeting criminals.

"This is consistent with the way we've described our priorities, that we are seeking to deport felons, " Earnest said, "not break apart families."

Diego Arene and Adele Anderson of Washington listen to demonstrators outside the White House in Washington, Jan. 15, 2016, calling for an end to immigration raids.

Diego Arene and Adele Anderson of Washington listen to demonstrators outside the White House in Washington, Jan. 15, 2016, calling for an end to immigration raids.

The second part of the deportations, says Earnest, is at the border. People recently crossing into the U.S. are also "priorities for removal," he said.

'Raids politically motivated'

Over the past few years, more than 100,000 people have fled gang violence, political unrest or other bad situations and entered the southern United States illegally.

Immigration judges have had trouble keeping up with the cases.

Oftentimes, immigrants failed to show up for hearings, then disappeared.

About 50 immigrants protested outside the Supreme Court, urging the justices to take up a case involving President Obama's executive order on immigration. (Carolyn Presutti/VOA)

About 50 immigrants protested outside the Supreme Court, urging the justices to take up a case involving President Obama's executive order on immigration. (Carolyn Presutti/VOA)

The United States built detention centers to house the most recent immigrants, but quickly ran out of beds and space for the constant flow across the border.

In early January, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents targeted immigrants who have crossed the border since 2014 and who had been ordered out of the country by an immigration judge.

Those arrested had "exhausted all appropriate legal remedies,” said Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security secretary.

As a result of the recent raids, 77 people were deported to Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.

"Wow. Seventy-seven? That's hardly anybody,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “Seventy-seven people came into this country illegally since we started talking."

President Barack Obama has always encouraged illegal immigration by rewarding it, but now has started the raids for political reasons, Stein says.

"Obama sees [Republican presidential candidate Donald] Trump mowing down opponents, so he is taking steps to provide assurances to the American people that someone has to go home," Stein said.

Watch: Supreme Court Could Decide Immigration Dispute

'Sowing discord'

Hillary Clinton, a Democratic presidential candidate and former secretary of state under Obama, denounced the administration's raids as "divisive" and "sowing discord and fear."

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders wrote a letter to the president, asking for the raids to stop and for the country to protect the immigrants.

Meanwhile, Trump applauded the raids and took partial credit for them, claiming the pressure he placed on the administration had resulted in the deportations.

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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.

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