Immigration activists have protested against a proposal to rename two Illinois middle schools after former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
The Waukegan Board of Education is deliberating on changing the names of Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Daniel Webster Middle School because of Jefferson and Webster’s ties to slavery, WLS-TV reported.
The Obamas are among the top contenders for Thomas Jefferson Middle School’s new name but have drawn opposition from immigration activists in the area.
Activist Julie Contreras, who works with a group that provides shelters for minors who have crossed the border illegally, said that Obama failed to deliver on promises he made to help the illegal immigrant population during his presidency.
“From the time Barack Obama became president until 2017 when he left, he today is still the highest-ranking president with deportations in our nation,” Contreras said.
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“We feel that Barack Obama did disservice to us. He denied us, and he didn’t stop the deportations the way he promised.”
She added, “If you’re removing the name of Thomas Jefferson — one oppressor — the name of Obama is another oppressor and our families do not want to see that name.”
The school board has been deliberating on the name change for months, but the community protested Tuesday against the possibility of renaming the school in honor of Obama, according to WGN-TV.
“Today, I want to urge the board to drop the names of Barack and Michelle Obama from consideration,” resident Oscar Arias said.
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“Barack Obama’s presidency is filled with hostility against the immigrant community.”
A news release circulated before Tuesday’s meeting said that Obama is known as the “Deporter in Chief” among the local Latino community.
“Back in 2015, Obama had overseen more than 2.5 million deportations, far more than any previous president in our history,” the release read.
“Obama had the reputation for using Congress as an excuse, saying that Congress tied his hands and that he could not reduce the number of people being deported.”
Resident Mauricio Sanchez told WLS that his father was deported in 2015 and is still in deportation hearings six years later.
“It was something very sad,” Sanchez said. “We couldn’t even say goodbye to our dad. We just hoped for him to be able to get out.”
Naming a school after Obama would be another reminder to families like Sanchez’s of the struggles they’ve faced, according to Contreras.
“Those children live in the reality of insecurity in mixed-status families,” Contreras told WGN.
“For us, having the Deporter in Chief’s name is painful for the community.”
A final decision regarding a name change will likely not be made for at least a month.
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