Dozens of people rallied today outside the US federal building in downtown Los Angeles to show solidarity with tens of thousands of migrant children who have sought refuge in the United States – and to denounce President Barack Obama's efforts to send them back to the countries they fled.
“I call upon the president not to deport any of these children and to embrace them as refugees,”
said Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo, who joined other speakers
in attributing the recent influx of children from Guatemala, Honduras
and El Salvador to decisions made in Washington. “They are products of
our foreign policy. They are seeking an opportunity.”
organized by the Human Rights Alliance for Child Refugees and Families,
came as the president is seeking another $2 billion to bolster border
security and speed up the deportation process, a request that comes in
response to a significant rise over the last couple years in the number
of unaccompanied minors from the Americas crossing into the United
States. In fiscal year 2012, just over 10,000 youth sought refuge in the
US; between October 2013 and June 2014 alone, that number rose to more
The dominant media narrative has been that these
children are coming to the United States because of misinformation;
because they believe that the administration which has deported more
immigrants than any of its predecessors would show them leniency. But
Leisy Abrego, a professor of Chicano/a studies at UCLA, said that what
was causing these children to leave the only land they have ever known –
and to leave everything, including their parents, behind – was the dire
situation in their home countries.
“Today, as I see these very heartbreaking
images of children coming here, risking their lives . . . I remember
that this is just the most recent chapter of a very long and painful
history in the region,” said Abrego, who came to the US as child after
fleeing a US-backed civil war in El Salvador.
“As a child, I did not understand what was
causing the bombings and shootings that forced us to leave our
country,” said Abrego. “It took many years for me to learn that history
and to understand the very central role of the US government.” Today,
she argued, US-backed violence continues under the guise of “free trade”
agreements that compel the nations of Central America to favor US
corporations at the expense of independent economic development.
its part, the Obama administration has sought to dispel the notion that
it is welcoming of those fleeing violence and economic hardship in
Central America, arguing that it would be deporting these children at a
faster pace were it not for a law signed by President George W. Bush in
2008 that “made it nearly impossible to repatriate unaccompanied minors
to Central America without letting them appear before an immigration
judge,” as The Los Angeles Times reported.
Because of the law, which the administration is trying to change, these
children are allowed to request asylum, which delays deportation but
is almost never granted to Latin Americans.
Sanchez, who also fled the war in El Salvador as a child – “seeking
refuge, ironically, in the country that was investing in the war” – said
the Obama administration should show compassion toward those child
migrants who are today fleeing “economic violence” and breakdown of
society caused by the US-backed war on drugs.
“We need to have the
US government redirect those 2 billion dollars to support those
children here,” said Sanchez, who founded the group Homies Unidos, which
works with LA youth to provide peaceful alternatives to gang life.
“These are children. Children! These are children coming here seeking
And these are children the Obama administration are
deporting – children who have learned that talk of American compassion
was just a rumor.
Check out more pictures from the rally and watch a video of the press conference: