Illinois Latinos criticize plan to rename school after 'deporter-in-chief' Obama

<span>Photograph: Carlos Barría/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Carlos Barría/Reuters

Plans to rename an Illinois school after Barack Obama have run into a protest from local members of the Latino community who are angry about the former president’s record on the issue of deportation.

Leaders and members of the Waukegan Latino community are pushing back against a local school board’s proposal to rename the city’s Thomas Jefferson middle school, according to WGN Chicago.

Waukegan is a city just north of Chicago with a population that is more than 50% Latino.

The move to change the school’s name stems from the fact that Jefferson was a slave owner, and echoes similar proposals across the country in the wake of a racial reckoning caused by Black Lives Matter protests. Opposition to naming this school after Obama stems from the deportation of 5 million people during his presidency, most of whom were Latino.

“Today, I want to urge the board to drop the names of Barack and Michelle Obama from consideration,” Oscar Arias, a graduate of Waukegan public schools and city resident, told the city’s school board Tuesday night. “Barack Obama’s presidency is filled with hostility against the immigrant community.”

Before the school board meeting, a press release sent to media outlets by those opposed to the group said that Obama is thought of as “deporter-in-chief” among the Latino community.

“Back in 2015, Obama had overseen more than 2.5 million deportations, far more than any previous president in our history,” the press release said. “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.”

Families in Waukegan were destroyed amid raids and other immigration enforcement actions, the release stated.

“Those children live in the reality of insecurity in mixed-status families,” Waukegan resident Julie Contreras said. “For us, having the deporter-in-chief’s name is painful for the community.”

Migration Policy Institute data indicate that Bill Clinton and George W Bush deported 12 million and 10 million people respectively. While total deportations were higher in the Bush and Clinton administrations, there were more removals from the US interior under Obama, 3m compared to Bush’s 2 million and Clinton’s nearly 900,000, the Institute’s numbers show.

WGN reports that it will be at least one month before the school board announces a final decision on this school’s name.