WASHINGTON — Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada and more than two dozen other House Democrats on Thursday urged President Barack Obama to use his executive powers to achieve what he did for the so-called DREAMers — halt deportations of undocumented immigrants.
A letter signed by 29 lawmakers and sent to the White House asks Obama to expand the deferred action program for young people “to all those who would be potential citizens under immigration reform.”
With Congress likely to go home in the next few days without completing action on immigration this year, the lawmakers said the president is the only hope for families unsettled over the holidays by fears of deportation. They said about 1,100 individuals are expelled daily.
“The toll in our neighborhoods, the toll in our immigrant communities, the toll of hardworking families being separated continues to grow,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said. “The president through his action with the DREAMers proved the point that there can be a humanitarian policy.”
The letter released at a news conference is a follow-up to a similar appeal launched in June by Democrats and groups supportive of immigration reform. Obama did not act at the time.
Also on Thursday, a coalition of 543 labor, neighborhood, legal rights and civil rights groups issued a similar plea to the president.
With Congress stymied on immigration, Obama on June 2012 issued a memo establishing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It allows young people who were brought into the United States illegally as children to apply for relief from removal and for authorization to work legally.
About 500,000 young people — nicknamed the DREAMers — have been granted DACA status, according to Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. Now, said Gutierrez, “it’s time to stop deporting the parents of the DREAMers.”
Titus said that while immigration reform supporters continue to push for legislation setting a citizenship path for undocumented residents, Obama should act “so that the mommies and daddies of those students who are now protected will also be protected.”
The campaign renews the question as to how far an administration can go to stop deportations. A 2011 memo from John Morton, then the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, gave agency attorneys “prosecutorial discretion” to refrain from pursuing noncitizens with family ties to the United States and to focus instead on those who pose threats to public safety.
Still, deportations continue at record levels, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2011, 392,000 undocumented immigrants were removed, with 48 percent deported for breaking laws. The Obama administration has had more deportations annually than the last Bush administration, according to Pew.
At a rally in San Francisco last week, Obama was pressed by a heckler to stop deportations. He responded he will not do so by executive action, saying he does not have that power without an act of Congress.
“Wait, wait, wait, before everybody starts clapping,” he said, “that’s not how it works. We’ve got this Constitution. We’ve got this whole thing about separation of powers and branches. … there’s no shortcut to democracy.’
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.