As some 140 migrants are expected to arrive in Southern California on Friday, immigrant advocates are urging the federal government to grant amnesty to migrant children seeking refuge in the United States.
In downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, demonstrators chanted "liberation, not deportation," demanding that President Barack Obama and Congress stop deportations, particularly of children fleeing violence in their native countries.
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"These kids that just came to the border, they are refugees," said Luis Serrano of the California Immigrant Youth Alliance. "They are here alone. They are fleeing their countries because they are afraid for their lives."
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Serrano said a human trafficking law passed in 2008 under former president George W. Bush that allows children arriving from a country other than Mexico to stay indefinitely qualifies the immigrant youth for refugee status.
The activists fear Obama is trying to weaken the law now in order to speed up deportations.
"There's laws, this protection, that's supposed to back them," Serrano said. "He's not abiding by that."
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The White House said the president's new provisions help the children by allowing their cases to be processed faster. If no reason is found for them to stay, they will be deported.
According to the Pew Research Center, the bulk of the unaccompanied children migrating to the U.S. are from the most violent regions in countries such as Honduras and El Salvador.
David Lemus, a junior at UC Berkeley, came to the U.S. from El Salvador about six years ago with his two brothers.
"A lot of my friends were shot in the head or in the face, just for not paying money to the gangs," Lemus said.
Lemus said he and his family "couldn't afford to wait" the years it would take to immigrate legally.
About 52,000 unaccompanied children have been captured along the U.S.-Mexico border, nearly double the amount last year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The increase may be fueled by mistaken beliefs that childrens' status in the U.S. can be expedited if they are unaccompanied.
About 2 million people have been deported since 2008 under Obama.
The president said this week he plans to take more executive actions on immigration since Congress has stalled on passing an immigration reform bill, but only Congress has the power to suspend deportations.