No One Expected Obama Would Deport More People Than any Other U.S. President

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President Barack Obama, with Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos, gestures while speaking with students, parents and teachers during a town hall at Bell Multicultural High School, in the Columbia Height

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama spoke to the hearts of Latinos with three words: "Yes we can."

"He started using this phrase Si Se Puede. Yes we can,” said Jorge Ramos, a journalist with the largest Spanish-language news network in the country, Univision. “That actually was taken from two great Latinos: Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez.”

Si Se Puede was the rallying cry of the farmworker rights movement in the 1960's. And with that chant, Ramos, considered one of the most influential voices among 57 million Latinos in the country, said Latinos could see themselves in Obama.

Ten million came out for the general election; 67 percent voted for Obama. In 2012, Obama secured even more Latino votes.

No one expected Barack Obama would become the president to deport more people than any other president in U.S. history.

“No. Nobody,” said Ramos. “Not at the beginning.”

Obama's Homeland Security deported 2.7 million people — an average of about a thousand immigrants a day, for eight years — earning him the title of “Deporter in Chief."

Even after Donald Trump was elected, on January 4, 2017, the Obama administration confirmed a new wave of immigration raids, focused on children and families fleeing Central America.

“This should come as no surprise,” the Secretary of Homeland Security wrote. “Families and unaccompanied children will be removed.”

“That’s the part of Barack Obama that I do not understand,” Ramos said. “I really don’t.”

“La Promesa de Obama”

As a presidential candidate in 2008 Obama promised the then 14 million undocumented immigrants that he would introduce immigration reform in his first year in office. It became known in the Latino community as “La Promesa de Obama,” or Obama's Promise. But he didn’t introduce immigration legislation. Instead he focused on healthcare and the economy.

In 2010, Democrats lost control of Congress, and immigration reform died.

But the deportations continued. Obama was clear: the law was the law, and it had to be enforced. But in 2010, Obama’s Homeland Security did announce people without criminal records would no longer be priorities.

Families were affected anyway.

Maria Lara Hererra and her husband Geronimo were deported to Tijuana, Mexico despite Obama’s priorities to go after criminals and recent arrivals.

After living and working in San Diego for 25 years, they left five kids behind. 

The oldest, Rosa Arzate has a visa that allows her to be in the U.S., but she can’t leave the country. When her dad died two months ago Arzate had to watch his funeral through the camera of her sister’s phone.

“Four years I never seen him, and now to see him only in FaceTime,” she cried. “I cannot even touch him and then to see my mom how she cried, it was really hard for me.”

Protection for Dreamers

For almost his entire presidency, Obama was under relentless pressure from Republicans. In 2012, his opponent, Mitt Romney, urged immigrants to "self deport."

Even so, in 2014, Obama announced he would use his executive power to protect 740,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers, from deportation.

“You’ll be able to apply you stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation,” Obama announced. “You can come out of the shadows.”

He tried to give the same protection to up to 5 million parents of U.S. citizens, but in 2016 a Supreme Court tie blocked it from going forward.

“I think it is heartbreaking for the millions of immigrants who made their lives here, who raised families here,” Obama said at the time.

But deportations still continued.

Over Obama’s entire presidency, just about half of everyone deported had no record, according to data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But last year, 95 percent of non-criminal removals were recent arrivals, people apprehended near or at the border. 

Still, Donald Trump ran a campaign ridiculing Obama's actions on immigration as simply not enough. Trump's policies are expected to be far harsher. And for the first time in four decades, there will be no Latino in the president’s cabinet.

But Jorge Ramos says the very fact that Barack Obama — the son of an immigrant — became president leaves Latinos with hope that a Latino could also be president one day.

"Obama became the first African American president in a country with a history of slavery, racism and discrimination. I don’t see why we cannot do exactly the same," Ramos said. 

“I am absolutely convinced that the first Latino or Latina president has already been born. Juan in Los Angeles or Pedro in Miami or Sofia in New York," he said. "He did it. We can do it, too."