House Democrats urged President Barack Obama on Monday to use his State of the Union speech to announce a halt to deportations of people living in the country illegally.
Nevada Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford were among 34 lawmakers pressing Obama in a letter to use his executive powers to defer deportation action against people with clean records. Those individuals would be allowed to stay in the country if Congress were to adopt an immigration bill that the Senate passed last year.
Members of the group further pressed their case in a call with reporters, likening it to a “cease fire” on deportations while Congress tries to resolve the legal status of more than 10 million people living in the country illegally.
A similar plea by Democrats in December failed to draw a response from the Obama administration.
The Obama administration deported almost 1.6 million people in its first four years, putting it on pace to exceed the 2.2 million deported during the eight-year Bush administration, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“Until we can get an immigration bill passed, we need to stop these deportations,” said Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas.
Obama acted administratively in 2012 to halt deportations of younger immigrants — the so-called DREAMers who attend school and want to remain in the United States. But he has hesitated to do more, telling an audience in San Francisco last year he may not have the authority to act unilaterally.
Immigration advocates disagree.
“The president said he didn’t have discretion to do (deferred action) for the DREAMers, and at the end of the day he ended up having discretion,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. “We feel it’s the same in terms of deportation policy and extending protections to other immigrants.”
House Republicans under Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, were preparing to outline their own priorities on immigration this week, a possible prelude to action this year on the divisive issue.
But, Horsford said, “we can’t wait for Speaker Boehner to bring up immigration reform while families continue to be torn apart. Halting deportations now is the right thing to do.
“The president has said he has a pen and a phone, and in this case he should use both to protect immigrants and their families from any further deportations,” Horsford said.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow @STetreaultDC on Twitter