Citing GOP Resistance To Reform, Democrats Urge Obama To Expand Deportation Relief

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (center) at a press conference in June 2014. CREDIT: ALLIANCE FOR CITIZENSHIP
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (center) at a press conference in June 2014. CREDIT: ALLIANCE FOR CITIZENSHIP

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) is calling on the President to immediately broaden his 2012 executive action, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, to undocumented immigrants, with special attention paid to undocumented parents. During a press conference Thursday morning with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Gutierrez pressed the President to stop deportations and unveiled a manual that they will distribute to other Congressional members to intervene with deportation proceedings. Earlier in the week, Gutierrez declared that the time to work with House Republicans on immigration reform was “over.”

“Right now, we see no way forward legislatively,” Gutierrez said on Thursday. “Think of the grand gesture that President Obama gave to the Republicans … He said no to us so that he could say yes to Republicans and what was their response? We’ll sue you.”

The DACA program has granted temporary deportation reprieve and work authorization to more than 550,000 undocumented immigrants between the ages of 15 and 31, who passed a background check and can proof that they had been residing in the United States before June 15, 2007. Gutierrez added that he would leave a legislative window open for Republicans who want to work on immigration reform, but said that he was more hopeful of executive action.

The 55-page manual details the steps that Congressional leaders can take in order to intervene to support constituents and other community members in deportation proceedings. One section covers the basics of the deportation process, including ways to work with attorneys, community activists, and the Board of Immigration Appeals to better defend immigrants. Another section covers both successful and unsuccessful campaigns, including the failed campaign to stop the deportation of immigrants with family ties to the United States, like A. Rosales-Lemus. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency put Rosales-Lemus on a plane back to Guatemala despite allegedly not responding to his attorney regarding his stay of removal application. The manual also includes the stories of successful public advocacy and Congressional intervention to halt the deportation of immigrants like R. Mejia, who received public support from groups like United We Dream and Reps. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) and Ed Pastor (D-AZ) who both wrote letters of support. Mejia received a one-year stay of removal as a result. The manual was produced in consultation with a broad coalition of immigration reform advocacy groups.

“Many Congressional offices have played, and should play, a key role in ensuring that constituents facing removal are not unjustly separated from their families,” said Carolina Canizales, United We Dream’s Education Not Deportation program coordinator. “At times, it is only action from our elected officials that can prevent immigration authorities from ignoring their own procedures and deporting constituents without review or despite hardship it would cause.” “We know that the administration has relief prepared by the end of July,” Gutierrez explained. He added that the administration should expedite the release of a review of deportation policies that the President ordered the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to conduct. That review would have been used by the Obama administration to help determine how to stop deportations. However in late May, the President delayed releasing the report, hoping that House Republicans would use the time to move on immigration reform. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the administration may be “slowing its timetable for announcing revisions to deportation policies” and that a senior administration official said that the White House would “reassess options” if House Republicans do not act on legislation by the August recess.

The press conference comes as the nation is grappling with a surge of unaccompanied Central American children. House Republicans have been using the humanitarian crisis to blame Obama’s DACA program for giving the “misperception” that the child refugees could also qualify, despite two on-the-ground studies that disprove the argument. House Republicans are also planning to file a federal lawsuit against the President for not “faithfully execut[ing] the laws.” The DACA program is often used as an example of executive overreach.

“Now we’re blaming defenseless children for why we can’t pass immigration reform… no movement, no middle ground,” Grijalva added Thursday. “Republicans have been using immigration reform as a wedge issue. The responsibility today shifts to … provid[ing] relief from deportation, extend[ing] protections to millions of people falls on the President.”

A report by released to the Huffington Post Wednesday found that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency “carried out more than 72,000 deportations of parents who said they had U.S.-born children.” Huffington Post’s Elise Foley commented that the figure reflects “total removals, not the exact number of individuals who were deported.” Still, the report found that “while most of the parents of U.S.-born children deported last year had been convicted of a crime, about 10,700 had no criminal convictions, although they may have fit other ICE priorities for removal.”

There were 39,410 removals of parents in the first half of 2013 and 33,000 removals in the second half of last year. Removal numbers for the second half of the year remained high despite the Obama administration issuing a directive in August 2013 that advises immigration agents to exercise prosecutorial discretion as early as possible during an immigrant’s detention, including finding out whether detained individuals are primary caretakers.