Hundreds of immigrant families and pro-immigration reform advocates demonstrated Monday morning outside of the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.
Protesters demanded a stop to deportations and denounced Arizona's new immigration law. They carried banners that read, "1,000 Families Torn Apart Each Day" and photos of children who have been separated from their parents because of current policy.
"We call on Secretary Janet Napolitano to meet with 20 immigrant families directly impacted by deportations so that she can understand how her department's policies of raids, detention, and deportations are destroying and dividing families," said the Rev. Jose Miranda of Sunflower Community Action in Wichita, Kan. "We trust that once she spends time face to face with the children who have lost their parents, and those who have lost loved ones, she will stop enacting anti-family policies until the national immigration debate results in a just and humane reform."
Organizers of the protest said more than a million immigrant families have been separated by deportations in the past decade.
In recent years, the issue of family separation has pulled conservative evangelicals into the immigration reform debate.
Just last week, Southern Baptist leader Richard Land, National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson, and Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver, among other evangelicals, listed their names in a "Roll Call" ad calling for immigration reform.
The leaders called for new federal immigration policies that respect the "God-given" dignity of every individual, keep the immediate family together, respect the rule of law, secure the national borders, ensure fairness to taxpayers, and establish a pathway for qualified undocumented immigrants to earn legal status or citizenship.
"Let us be clear – an earned pathway to citizenship is not amnesty," reads the evangelical leaders' statement on immigration. "We reject amnesty. And we ask those who label an earned pathway to citizenship as amnesty to stop politicizing this debate needlessly and to honestly acknowledge the difference."
They described the Arizona law as not the "wisest course of action," but said it resulted from the federal government's failure to pass immigration reform laws.
In late April, Arizona passed a controversial immigration law that is the toughest in the nation. Immigrants need to carry their alien registration documents at all times and police officers are allowed to question someone on their legal status if the person is suspected of being an illegal immigrant.
Opponents of the Arizona law argue it would amount to state sanctioned racial profiling.
Yet despite the strong rhetoric denouncing the law, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that a solid majority of Americans support Arizona's new immigration policy.
A full 73 percent of the public said they approve requiring people to show documents verifying their legal status if asked by the police. About two-thirds support allowing police officers to detain people unable to verify their legal status, and 62 percent approve of allowing police to question anyone they think may be in the country illegally.
Nearly three in five Americans (59 percent) said they approve of the law even when considering everything about it, including the negative aspects.
Not surprisingly, Republicans overwhelmingly (82 percent) approved of the new Arizona law while Democrats are split on the new law: 45 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove.
The survey also found that most Americans disapprove of President Obama's handling of immigration policy. Only 25 percent approve of how he is doing on the issue, compared to 54 percent that disapprove.
The White House, in response to Arizona's immigration law, has expressed that it might direct the Justice Department to file a lawsuit against the state to block the policy. But last Thursday at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., admitted he has not yet read the 10-page law.
Holder's admission has drawn criticism from conservatives who support the bill. They derided the Obama administration for threatening to file a lawsuit when the attorney general has not even read the law.
Arizona's new immigration law is scheduled to take effect in July if it is not blocked by the court. Several groups have already filed lawsuits against the law.