Hispanic protesters are opposing a proposal for a Chicago-area school to be renamed after former President Barack Obama, claiming he’s an “oppressor” who didn’t stand up for the undocumented immigrant community.
“We feel that Barack Obama did disservice to us. He denied us, and he didn’t stop the deportations, the way he promised,” said Waukegan, Illinois, activist Julie Contreras. “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.”
Contreras works with a group that runs shelters for undocumented children at the United States-Mexico border.
On Tuesday, Waukegan’s Board of Education met to to discuss renaming two schools in the district, Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Daniel Webster Middle School.
Renaming committees composed of students, staff and community members were assigned to each school in the suburb north of Chicago. Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s third president, owned slaves, and Webster, a former senator, supported slavery. The committees were put together after 80 Jefferson students and community members signed a petition calling for a name change in June.
One of the three nominated names for Thomas Jefferson Middle School is Barack & Michelle Obama Middle School.
At the school board meeting, six Hispanic community members said the school shouldn’t be named after the country’s first Black president and first lady.
Oscar Arias, a Waukegan native and former district student, said the name shouldn’t be used because Obama deported 3 million immigrants during his presidency.
More than half of Waukegan’s population is Hispanic or Latino.
“That’s many families that were affected and separated, many of whom reside right here in Waukegan,” Arias said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “The fear that many of my friends faced of never seeing their parents again after coming home from school still resonates with me.” He suggested the board go with the second name option and that the school be renamed John L. Lewis Middle School, after the iconic civil rights activist and longtime Georgia congressman who died last July.
The third option is Dolores Huerta & Cesar Chavez Middle School.
Contreras went on to say that Obama is an oppressor just like Thomas Jefferson. “If you’re removing the name of Thomas Jefferson — one oppressor — the name of Obama is another oppressor, and our families do not want to see that name,” Contreras said.
Latino community members held a protest outside of the building during Tuesday’s meeting.
Board President Brandon Ewing said the vote for the school name will be held on April 7. If there is a tie, a combination of two of the options may be used, and if no name receives four or more votes the existing name will remain.
“I personally don’t object to the name, but I have to be aware of the concerns,” Ewing said.