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Activists Echo Obama's Call For Immigration Reform

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Civil engineer Jai Shankar at protest against D.C.'s immigration policies this week.
Armando Trull
Civil engineer Jai Shankar at protest against D.C.'s immigration policies this week.

Several dozen people protested in Columbia Heights on behalf of Jai Shankar this week, ahead of President Barack Obama's challenge to Congress to address immigration reform. Shankar, a civil engineer and native of India who has been in the U.S. since 1992, says D.C. police arrested him in 2009 and turned him over to immigration authorities after he called police to report a crime. Shankar says this violated D.C. law.

"Do I look like a threat to this country?" says Shankar. "I don't have any felony records, I don't have any criminal record. I always worked and always paid the taxes."

Shankar's application for an asylum petition was denied in 2002, so he remained in the country without documents.

Jim McGrath, a tenants rights activist, calls Shankar a hero: "He helps out elderly people in the building, latinos in the building. There's no elevator there; he helps old folks get up over eight flights of stairs."

Shankar, who has a 10-year-old U.S.-born child, is himself a poster child for the Obama administration's change in deportation procedures. It allows prosecutors to defer deportation of those who are not deemed a threat to national security. Shankar's attorney plans to ask the immigration bureau to stay Shankar's deportation and reopen his asylum case.

The night of the protest, during his state of the union address, President Obama said his administration has deported more dangerous aliens than ever before: "We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now."

"It has been a very positive message, but we want to materialize this message into action," says Edgar Aranda, who chairs the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations.

Gustavo Torres with Casa de Maryland says that the Department of Immigration told him it has reviewed approximately one-third of the 300,000 current deportation cases to see if any qualify for deferral.

While they are hopeful, Torres and other activists including Shankar say they are taking a wait and see approach.

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