Activists from Casa de Maryland protested at the Department of Homeland Security's immigration arm Monday afternoon. They say the agency is not enforcing legislation that promises to focus on deporting major criminals instead of a broader focus on all undocumented immigrants.
Bolivia native Hector Reyes says he's one example. He was out on St. Patrick's Day when he was arrested for public drunkenness. On the sidelines of Monday's protest, Reyes denies the accusation, saying because he is undocumented, he was sent to immigration.
"They're trying to send me to a place that I probably don't even remember, and also don't have any family there left," he said.
Reyes is out on bond and not shying away from authorities. He protested outside U.S. Immigration headquarters because he was brought to Virginia illegally 15 years ago, and had no choice.
Another protester, Helia De La Cruz, has been separated from her children — who are American citizens — while she fights her deportation charges.
I was denied permanent residency. I want to be heard again," she said through a translator. "I want to be with my children. and it's very difficult to be with them."
Maryland Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Md.) joined the protesters in Washington, saying cases like De La Cruz's have become all too common.
"We have record numbers — record numbers — in this administration of deportation and breaking up of families," Gutierrez said.
She wants police to focus on "real criminals — murderers, rapists, and oh my goodness, I'm going to be the first one that's going to support that," she said.
Gutierrez is an immigrant from El Salvador. It was easier to gain citizenship back in the '70s when was naturalized. Nowadays, she says, the path to legal residency is murky and deportation practices are even less clear.
Last August, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that prosecutors would be instructed to use their discretion when deciding which deportation cases would be targeted, and that undocumented immigrants who pose a threat to public safety would be the first to go.
But activists say those reviews have been slow, and many people, such as victims of domestic violence, young adults brought to this country while minors, relatives of military personnel and others with compelling life stories that could qualify for a delay are still being deported.
Similar protests are planned in California, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, and Texas.