Marta Espinoza Lopez, 62, spent the past decade bent over a sewing machine in Arizona, stitching men’s work jackets and vests. In February, Lopez said, immigration agents swept through the factory and arrested her and other workers who are in the country illegally. This week, a few days after being released, Lopez drove to Washington to tell her story and ask President Obama to stop deporting people like her until Congress settles the issue of immigration reform.
“I love sewing, and I work hard. There is no shame in sewing or sweeping floors or cleaning bathrooms, but they are calling us criminals for it,” said Lopez, a retired secretary who said she crossed the border from Mexico on foot because she could not make ends meet on her pension. “You have to have the courage of hunger to cross,” she said Monday after a news conference at Freedom Plaza.
Lopez and a group of other immigrants facing deportation are spending this week in the capital as part of a campaign by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)and several other organizations to call attention to the problems of working immigrants who are in the country illegally. Organizers said thousands continue to be deported, even though many illegal immigrant students were granted a reprieve from deportation by the president last year.
The groups have set up a week-long exhibit of artwork about immigrants at the plaza at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. One hand-painted poster showed two enormous fists smashing into walls and homes and grabbing a terrified, naked, brown-skinned family.
The event coincides with a traveling one-week fast against deportations that is being held in various cities. It is being observed in the District by some immigrants and church activists.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Obama administration has adopted a “common-sense” deportation policy in the past four years, focusing on immigrants who break criminal laws, flee immigration court, repeatedly violate immigration laws or recently crossed the border.
Large-scale workplace raids were dramatically cut back, especially after a high-profile raid on a meatpacking plant in Iowa in 2008 that ended in 389 arrests and devastated the local community. Immigration officials shifted to making “paper raids,” especially tax audits, and pursuing employers of illegal immigrants rather than the workers.
“ICE is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens and egregious immigration-law violators. ICE does not conduct enforcement actions to target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately,” Nicole Navas, a spokesperson for the agency, said Monday.
Officials also said the agency reviews each deportation case individually, taking into account the person’s police record and length of time and family ties in the United States.
The agency said it deported about 410,000 immigrants last year. It said only a tiny fraction were law-abiding but undocumented adults, while 96 percent fell into other categories. Fifty-five percent were convicted criminals, 21 percent were repeat immigration offenders, and 17 percent were sent back at the border.