MILWAUKEE — Nearly 20 White House officials stopped at South Division High School Saturday. It was the 17th stop on a nationwide tour aimed at hearing the concerns of Hispanic residents.
Lizeth Zorrilla, an undocumented college student, hoped the event would help put her at ease. “I was brought here at the age of three, and for me to return to a place I did not grow up in, it’s very hard to do that. I’m studying, I’m trying to make my life a better place here. This is the place I’ve learned to call home,” Zorrilla said.
Without a Visa or a Green Card, Zorrilla knows she can be deported at any time. At Saturday’s event, Department of Homeland Security officials insisted deporting people like Zorrilla is not a priority. “What the president has been focusing on is looking at people with criminal histories, criminal records,” Betsy Markey, an Assistant Secretary for the DHS Office of Intergovernmental Affairs said.
With more than one million people sent out of the country, the Obama administration has deported more illegal immigrants than any other, but Markey says a closer look at those deported backs up the administration’s position on prioritization. “Are (those deported) the breadwinner for the family? Are they going to college? Serving in the military? Contributing to their communities? All those factors weigh in. Yes, the numbers are up, however, you will see there’s a much greater percentage of people being removed who have criminal records because that is the focus,” Markey said.
According to a 2011 DHS report, nearly 75% of those deported either had a criminal record or were trying to illegally re-enter the country.
Zorilla says she would one day like to become a citizen, but is scared to leave the country in order to get in line. “This is my home and I want to represent this country. I’ve grown to appreciate all the values I’ve learned here and for me to be shunned from that is kind of unfair,” Zorilla said.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, more than 11 million illegal immigrants are living in the U.S.