Young Immigrants Turn Focus to President in Struggle Over Deportations

Julia Preston, New York Times, February 23, 2014

More than 500 leaders of a national network of young immigrants, frustrated that House Republicans said they would not move on immigration this year, have decided to turn their protests on President Obama in an effort to pressure him to act unilaterally to stop deportations.

After months of lobbying, rallies and sit-in demonstrations ended with no movement in the House on a pathway to citizenship for immigrants here illegally, the youths who gathered in Phoenix this weekend for an annual congress of the network, United We Dream, said they felt disappointed by Republicans and Democrats. Pointing to Mr. Obama’s pledge early this year to use his phone and pen when Congress did not move on his agenda, they said they would demand that he take executive action to increase protections for immigrants without papers.

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The youths said they would press the president to expand the deportation deferrals he provided to them by executive action in 2012. More than 520,000 young people have received deferrals so far, allowing them to work legally and obtain driver’s licenses in many states. {snip}

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Lorella Praeli, a leader of the youth network, told the gathering here that Republicans had adopted a strategy of “death by delay” for immigration. But network leaders did not appear disheartened. An organization that only a few years ago held its meetings clandestinely to avoid detection by immigration authorities, the network held its congress this year in the Sheraton hotel in downtown Phoenix. They filled the main ballroom with strategy debates, protest singalongs and group hugs. Other guests were surprised to encounter slogan-chanting youths parading through the lobby.

They chose Phoenix, leaders said, to confront Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, who has not allowed youths with deportation deferrals to apply for driver’s licenses, as other states have.

On Saturday afternoon, the group marched through downtown Phoenix and rallied at a Department of Homeland Security detention center. Their chants were mainly directed toward the president. “Obama, Obama, don’t deport my mama!” the crowd members shouted.

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The youths said they would ask Mr. Obama to cut back programs that have greatly expanded the local reach of federal immigration authorities and to grant deportation deferrals to undocumented parents of youths who had received them.

The president has insisted he does not have legal authority to grant more deferrals. But recently he hinted that he might revisit that position if legislation remained stalled.

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