Immigration Activists Urge Obama to Act Boldly

Erica Werner, AP, April 15, 2014

Latinos and immigration activists are warning of political peril for President Barack Obama and Democrats in the fall election unless the president acts boldly and soon to curb deportations and allow more immigrants to remain legally in the U.S.

Many activists say Obama has been slow to grasp the emotions building within the Latino community as deportations near the 2 million mark for his administration and hopes for immigration legislation fade. With House Republicans unlikely to act on an overhaul, executive action by Obama is increasingly the activists’ only hope.

“There is tremendous anger among core constituencies of the president and the Latino and Asian communities in particular,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, which champions immigration change. “He has a momentous choice to make.”

Activists credit their sit-ins and hunger strikes for Obama directing new Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to review the administration’s deportations policy and suggest ways to make it more humane. Now they’re focused on ensuring they get the outcome they want–an expansion of Obama’s two-year-old policy allowing work permits for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children who have been in school or the military.

The program has helped more than 600,000 people. Activists want it expanded to include more immigrants, such as those who have been in the U.S. for at least five years or who since their arrival have had children. Depending on how it’s defined, that could help many millions more.

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“At this point anything short of an affirmative administrative relief program for parents of U.S. citizens and Dreamers is not enough,” said Lorella Praeli, director of advocacy at United We Dream, which represents immigrants brought here illegally as kids, known by their supporters as Dreamers. “The clock on Obama has run out.”

Administration officials haven’t tipped their hand on the timing or outcome of Johnson’s review, though activists anticipate initial steps fairly soon. {snip}

Despite the complaints from activists, Republicans accuse the Obama administration of inflating its record on deportations by counting people removed as they’re attempting to cross the border or shortly thereafter. In the 2013 fiscal year more than 60 percent of the nearly 370,000 deportations were of recent border crossers, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Frustration has spilled over onto some of Obama’s allies in Congress. Protesters from California were arrested last week after swarming the offices of Democratic Reps. Loretta Sanchez and Xavier Becerra to push toward stronger action.

“We’re doing everything that we can,” Sanchez later complained. “So when they come and they pressure us it’s almost like, ‘Guys, we understand where you’re coming from, but what we need to do is we need to get a vote out of” House Speaker John Boehner. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said activists were giving “a gift to the Republicans” by targeting Obama instead of the GOP.

Obama expressed a similar complaint at a meeting with immigration rights groups last month, asking officials present to give him 90 more days and meantime keep the focus on the GOP. {snip}

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