Barack Obama labeled 'deporter-in-chief', Latinx activists oppose renaming Chicago school after Michelle and him

‘We feel that Barack Obama did disservice to us. He denied us, and he didn't stop the deportations, the way he promised,' said an activist

                            Barack Obama labeled 'deporter-in-chief', Latinx activists oppose renaming Chicago school after Michelle and him
Former president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama (Getty Images)

Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle continue to be two of the most revered personalities in America’s public life. But it seems even they have fallen victim to the ‘cancel culture’, a modern form of ostracism that seems to have become a menace for the US society at the moment. 

Latinx activists in suburban Chicago, where Obama has done a lot of his work, have protested against renaming a local middle school after the latter and his wife because of his immigration policies. The controversy occurred during a meeting of the Waukegan Board of Education on Tuesday, March 30, where the members said they were against honoring the former Democratic president, with some signs calling him “the deporter-in-chief”. The board met over changing the name of its two schools -- Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Daniel Webster Middle School. Members of the local Latinx community also held a protest while the meeting took place indoors on Tuesday. 


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According to ABC7, while Jefferson, the third president of the US (1801-09), owned slaves and Webster, a former senator, also supported slavery, and there was an effort to erase their names from the schools’ history. Committees to rename the institutes were formed and they included people from the community, among students and staff members.

Former US president Thomas Jefferson (Getty Images)

But the new names also faced objections. While the names of Obama, the first Black US president (2009-17), and Michelle were among the top three choices for Thomas Jefferson Middle School’s new name, a large part of the Latinx population was not okay with it. District 60 school board member Edgar Castellanos was quoted by ABC7 as saying: “I will not be part of renaming a school after someone who did not and does not represent the undocumented community.” According to Castellanos, he came to the US undocumented as a child.

'Obama did not keep his promise to help immigrant population'

Julie Contreras, a Waukegan activist who works with a group that runs shelters for undocumented kids at the US-Mexico border, was also not happy with the renaming after Obama. She said the former president could not keep his promises to help the immigrant population. Contreras, who leads United Giving Hope, is organizing resistance against naming the school after the former commander-in-chief.

“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,” she told ABC7, adding: “We feel that Barack Obama did disservice to us. He denied us, and he didn't stop the deportations, the way he promised.” According to her, replacing Jefferson’s name with that of Obama was like replacing one oppressor with another.

Board president Brandon Ewing said while he personally had no problem with the renaming, yet he needed to be aware of the concerns.

Mauricio Sanchez, who was present at Tuesday’s protest, said his father was deported in 2015 when Obama was in office. Recalling the incident, he said his family couldn’t even say goodbye to their father. His father is still in deportation hearings and the name ‘Obama’ is something that reminds the family of the struggle.

Hispanic mothers and children await an opportunity to cross a street March 9, 2004, in Chicago's largely Hispanic Little Village neighborhood. (Getty Images)

Obama’s immigration policies were criticized as either too harsh or too weak. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed more than 400,000 immigrants in 2012. Obama's Republican critics called his policies “back-door amnesty”. 

Obama removed more than 2.5M people through immigration orders

ABC News reported in August 2016 that between 2009 and 2015, the Obama administration removed over 2.5 million people through immigration orders and that number doesn’t include those who were “self deported” or turned away to their home country at the border by the Customs and Border Protection. According to the report, Obama deported more than that all other American presidents of the 20th century did together.

Coming back to the Chicago schools-renaming controversy, a decision is expected in some time and among other alternative names that have been floated are late Congress member and civil rights activist John Lewis; Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to go to space; Katherine Johnson, one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist, among others.