It was the first presidential campaign event in which Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama appeared together. The Charlotte Observer ran a headline that suggested Clinton found her “roar” during the event in Charlotte, North Carolina. Despite the momentous occasion, teachers and students were there to protest Obama’s record on deportations and demand Clinton and Obama release refugee youth, who are currently jailed by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE).
Video from the event posted by Not One More Deportation shows the group of teachers holding up a banner that says, “Release Them Now.” Others hold up portraits of students who are in detention. As the teachers struggle to hold up a banner and draw the attention of Clinton and Obama, supporters of Clinton yell at them to put their banner and signs down so they can see. Many whoop and cheer, as they try to snap pictures with their phones.
Teachers and students declared, “We come here today as teachers, students, and community members to demand that President Obama and former Secretary of State Clinton release all detained refugee youth back to their classrooms and communities.”
“As teachers, it is our job to make sure our students can learn and grow. When they can’t, it is our duty to fight for that to change,” they added. “Our students are being picked up by ICE on their way to school. Yefri Sorto Hernandez was taken from his bus stop in Charlotte in January while his mother watched from the window. Wildin Guillen Acosta was picked up a day later outside his Durham home on his way to Riverside High. Hundreds more youth have been targeted and arrested by ICE in recent months. Some have been deported. Others, like Wildin, sit in jail cells with no release in sight.”
The group brought particular attention to the case of Costa, who is a refugee from Honduras. On January 28, 2016, Acosta was warming up his car while getting ready for school. Plainclothes ICE agents appeared and threw Acosta, a 19 year-old, to the ground and detained him, according to journalist Julie Morse.
Acosta fled gang violence in 2014. He traveled by car and foot from Olancho, Honduras. He was the last of his family to leave for Durham.
Now he is in Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. He had everything prepared for college. He was on a path to graduation from high school. But ICE disrupted his life completely.
According to the teachers and students who protested, “At least nine youth from North Carolina and three from Georgia are being held in demoralizing conditions at Stewart and Irwin Detention Centers in Georgia.”
Acostas has been put in solitary confinement for 10 days. One of the reasons for the punishment apparently involves translating a letter into English for another inmate. It was 45 days until the community brought pressure against the detention center.
“We believe that our students are facing retaliation for being high profile detainees.”
— hollyhardin (@ruralremnants) July 6, 2016
Holly Hardin, a middle school teacher in Durham, captured a photo of Clinton “fleeing” the stage instead of addressing the issue of detained students.
“Wildin came to Durham, NC seeking the safety to be a kid, learn, and make a life. His capture, detention, isolation in solitary, and potential deportation puts Wildin into harm’s way,” Hardin declared. “I am here to ask Obama to dismantle the system that captures immigrants that he created during his presidency in order to protect all my students. Release Wildin and all the youth back into our communities, where they can survive, learn, and thrive.”
The draft of the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform currently reads:
…We should prioritize those who pose a threat to the safety of our communities, not hardworking families who are contributing to their communities. We will end raids and roundups of children and families, which unnecessarily sow fear in immigrant communities. We should ensure due process for those fleeing violence in Central America and work with our regional partners to address the root causes of violence. We must take particular care with children, which is why we should guarantee government-funded counsel for unaccompanied children in immigration courts.
The Obama administration has prioritized the deportation of refugees from Central America, including children, who have fled violence in their countries.
In 2015, immigration authorities deported 235,413 people. Obama has “carried out many more deportations than previous presidents, setting a record of more than 2.4 million formal removals,” according to the New York Times. And the administration frequently targets individuals who have committed low-level nonviolent crimes and breaks up families.
The government also places “unnecessary hurdles” in the way of those seeking asylum, people who have fled El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who the administration has deported to “send a message.”
In May, as highlighted by Immigration Impact, the Obama administration launched another round of raids, which targeted mothers and young children. The CARA Family Detention Pro-Bono Project “documented” 21 examples where individuals were “processed for deportation after being denied any basic due process protections or ever having had their claims heard.”
States like Texas, North CArolina, South Carolina, and Georgia have the highest rates of asylum denials.
The Obama administration has also sought to expand the detention of immigrant families. In 2015, a federal judge ruled the administration’s family detention policy violated the rights of undocumented children. The administration responded by seeking to classify detention centers as “child care” facilities so they could jail mothers and their children.