By Eunju Lie
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Latino activists held a protest outside President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign headquarters on Tuesday to ask him to end a criminal deportation program they say is snaring large number of illegal immigrants who have not committed crimes.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, established the Secure Communities program in partnership with local law enforcement agencies as well as the FBI to deport unauthorized immigrants with criminal convictions.
"They're saying it is to deport criminal immigrants, but in reality, that's not happening," said Xochitl Espinoza, of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities activist group, which took part in the protest on Tuesday.
Obama supports comprehensive immigration reform, boosting workplace enforcement and border security while granting of millions of illegal immigrants in good standing a chance to become citizens if they pay a fine and learn English.
But, according to ICE figures, U.S. authorities deported 392,862 foreign nationals in 2010, of whom fewer than half -- 195,772 -- were convicted criminals.
The protesters brought a petition signed by 24,300 people calling on the Democrat president to abolish the program. They complained it empowered police to act as immigration agents.
"The purpose of this event is not to ask for legislation, but to ask Obama to do a much more brave and bold exercise of his authority as president," said Oscar Chacon, executive director of the Alliance. "Obama has the decision-making power to bring the program to an end."
Americans are divided over what to do about an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, most from Latin America, living and working in the shadows in the United States.
Republicans, who control the U.S. House of Representatives, oppose comprehensive immigration reform, and favor tougher enforcement measures instead.
(Reporting by Eunju Lie; editing by Anthony Boadle)