Frustrated with the gridlock in Congress and seeking to advance administration goals, President Barack Obama said at a recent cabinet meeting: “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone — and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward.”
Now, a group of House Democrats want Obama to turn those words into action. They wrote a letter to the president on Monday, calling on him to use his pen to sign an executive order that would halt the deportations of undocumented immigrants while Congress is grappling with immigration reform.
They also want the president to use his State of the Union speech on Tuesday to announce he will suspend deportations.
“The president has said that he has a pen and a phone. Well in this case, he should use both to protect immigrants and their families from any further deportations,” Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), one of the six House Democrats who signed the letter, said Monday during a conference call with reporters.
Horsford added that as Congress continues waiting on House Speaker John Boehner to bring immigration reform legislation to the House floor for a vote, families will continue to be torn apart because of deportations.
“We know it would pass the House,” he said about immigration reform legislation. “But counting on Speaker Boehner to do the right thing and move an immigration bill immediately is not a bet I would make.”
There is ‘a great urgency’ to stop deportations
In the letter, House Democrats stress there is “a great urgency to secure avenues for humanitarian relief for the millions of families that are currently suffering under the fear of detention and deportation.”
They call on Obama to suspend the deportations of undocumented immigrants, especially those placed into deportation proceedings in Arizona following the implementation of the state’s controversial immigration law know as SB 1070. They also call on the president to prevent immigration authorities from placing holds on immigrants in several jurisdictions, including Knox County in Tennessee and Gwinnet and Cobb Counties in Georgia.
Furthermore, the House Democrats said during the call with reporters on Monday that Obama should halt the deportations of undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements. Among those requirements: qualify for the Senate-approved immigration reform, have children who are U.S. citizens, have deep ties in the U.S. and have not committed serious crimes.
A total of 368,644 people were deported during the 2013 fiscal year. By the end of this year, the number of deportations under the Obama administration is likely to reach the 2 million mark.
Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), one of the main authors of the letter, told reporters on Monday that these numbers “all have faces associated with them and many of them represent the deconstruction of a family.”
“I ask President Obama to address current deportation policy in his State of the Union address tomorrow,” Clarke said, adding that the suspension of deportations will “affirm our values as a society.”
Grijalva: Obama ‘has the power’ to stop deportations
Obama has argued that he cannot halt deportations. In November, he responded to a Dreamer in California who interrupted his speech and called on him to stop the deportations of all undocumented immigrants.
“If in fact I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so,” the president told the Dreamer. “But we are also a nation of laws. That’s part of our tradition.”
Still, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), one of the main authors of the letter, insisted during the call with reporters on Monday that Obama “has the power” to stop deportations. Grijalva said one way the president can do that is by extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to benefit more undocumented immigrants.
“The president has the power, the legal authority, as he did with DACA, … to do much more than he is doing to hold back on these deportations that are going on,” the Arizona congressman said.
The other Democrats who joined in signing the letter sent to Obama on Monday are Reps. Marc Veasey of Texas and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, along with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C.
This is the second letter Democrats send to Obama. In December, a group of about 30 Democrats — led by Grijalva — wrote another letter to Obama, asking him to “suspend any further deportations and expand the successful deferred action program to all those who would be potential citizens under immigration reform.”