Several Latino, labor and immigrant rights organizations joined Monday to call on President Barack Obama to halt the deportations of individuals who could be eligible for legalization and a roadmap to citizenship under the immigration reform bill proposed in the Senate.
The groups argued during a call with reporters that Obama has the power to exercise his discretion in directing the Department of Homeland Security to stop these deportations. Among the groups that joined the call were the AFL-CIO, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and United We Dream.
Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, said undocumented immigrants who would likely gain legal status under the proposed bipartisan immigration reform bill face “an ongoing danger of deportation and removal” due to immigration enforcement programs, like Secure Communities. He said stopping their deportations while Congress deliberates on the bill is “a simple matter of justice and fairness.”
“It makes no sense that we continue to deport and remove those who would be eligible for relief under the pending legislation,” Saenz said.
Advocates: Likely immigration reform recipients face deportation
Immigrant rights advocates have widely criticized the Obama administration for deporting a record number of people. Since the president took office in 2009, his administration has deported 1.6 million people, with about 400,000 being deported every year.
But the Obama administration has repeatedly stated that it is focused on deporting undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes, not those who are low-priority and who would qualify for immigration reform.
But advocates said Monday that undocumented immigrants with minor traffic violations are being put in removal proceedings and others are getting deported, like was the case with Yvette Martinez’s husband.
Martinez, a U.S. citizen from Springfield, Mass., joined the call on Monday to tell the story of how her husband, Roger, was deported last week to Honduras. She said authorities detained her husband in February after a traffic stop.
Martinez described her husband as “a great guy” who had no criminal record and would’ve qualified for immigration reform. She added that she and her husband never had any children together but that her 15-year-old son, a U.S. citizen, has been distressed ever since his stepfather was deported.
“My family and I, we are truly suffering,” she said. “I want to get my husband back.”
Pablo Alvarado, director of the NDLON, said it is because of stories like Martinez’s that he and the other advocates “strongly” believe Obama “cannot be a bystander” as thousands more people are deported.
“This is the moment for him to intervene,” Alvarado said of the president.
“You could feel in Yvette’s testimony that the suffering is unbearable,” he added. “It is, in our view, in the hands of President Obama to end this suffering.”
Not the first time advocates ask Obama to halt deportations
This is not the first time pro-immigration reform advocates have called on Obama to stop deportations.
During a meeting with Obama at the White House in February, several advocates asked the president for a moratorium on deportations of undocumented immigrants with no criminal records. Advocates said Obama responded to the request, saying he wouldn’t do it because he didn’t want to undermine legislative efforts to pass immigration reform.
That same month, the president also told Maria Elena Salinas of Univision that a large reduction in deportations would anger Republicans in Congress and that it could hurt the chances of passing an immigration reform bill this year.
But advocates suggested Monday they feel more confident than they did three months ago about Obama acting to stop deportations. That confidence stems from the growing support for immigration reform and the bill’s prospects of passing this year.
“Everyday it becomes more clear that immigration reform has unstoppable momentum,” said Ana Avendano, director of immigration for the AFL-CIO. “Politicians on Capitol Hill are not going to be able to stand in the way, because this issue is too important to the American public.”
Dreamer: Obama can halt deportations just like with deferred action
Lorella Praeli, director of advocacy and policy for United We Dream, said that just like Obama acted to stop the deportations of Dreamers, the president has the power to stop the deportations of other undocumented immigrants who would likely qualify for the bipartisan immigration reform bill.
Last June, Obama announced the deferred action program that gives deportation reprieve and work authorization to undocumented youth who entered the U.S. as children, have no criminal record and graduated from a U.S. high school or obtained a GED. Praeli said the announcement came after Dreamers spent three years pressuring the president to stop deporting undocumented youth.
She described the program, formally known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, as “a huge victory” and “a turning point” in the national debate over immigration. However, she also warned, “It’s not enough for us to live free from fear from deportation when too many Dreamers have already been separated from their parents or loved ones by deportations and our country’s senseless enforcement priorities.”
“It is not enough to say that we are working on immigration reform in Congress and that we have a strong chance of passing this, because everyday we see first hand the effects of an out of control enforcement system,” Praeli added.