School Won't Be Named After Obamas Following Protests

A school in Waukegan, Illinois, will not be renamed after former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, following protests from members of the Latino community in the city.

Thomas Jefferson Middle School will instead be named after John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement and Democratic congressman who died in July 2020.

Local opposition to the proposal to honor the Obamas centered on the former president's deportation policies and the fact that his administration deported more people than his successor Donald Trump.

Waukegan's Board of Education moved to rename two middle schools in the area in March.

One was named after Jefferson, the nation's third president and a slave owner, and the other after Daniel Webster, a former U.S. secretary of state. Daniel Webster Middle School is being renamed after Edith Smith, an activist who fought for the desegregation of Waukegan schools.

The Obamas were among the top three choices to replace Jefferson in the school's name. The board of education met to discuss the issue on March 30 and heard strong arguments against honoring the former president, the first African American to hold the office.

"I will not be part of renaming a school after someone who did not and does not represent the undocumented community," said Edgar Castellanos, a District 60 school board member who said he came to the U.S. as an undocumented child.

Julie Contreras, a Waukegan activist who works with an organization that runs shelters for undocumented children along the southern border, also spoke against honoring the Obamas.

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

Immigration advocacy groups branded Obama "deporter in chief" when he ran for re-election in 2012, according to CNN. The administration deported 5 million undocumented migrants during his eight years in office, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute.

This is fewer than the 10 million deported in eight years under George W. Bush and almost 12 million in eight years under Bill Clinton. The 5 million is significantly higher than the figure for Trump, however, who deported 935,000 in four years, according to The Washington Post.

In an interview in February last year, President Joe Biden said it had been a "big mistake" for the Obama administration to deport hundreds of thousands of people who didn't have criminal records.

"We took far too long to get it right," Biden told Univision, adding: "I think it was a big mistake. Took too long to get it right."

Barack and Michelle Obama in 2019
Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle close the Obama Foundation Summit on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago on October 29, 2019. A middle school in Illinois will not be renamed after the Obamas. Scott Olson/Getty Images