United We Dream, the nation’s largest immigrant youth-led organization, was successful two years ago in pressuring President Barack Obama to announce the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows Dreamers to stay and work in the United States.
Now, the group has a bigger goal in mind. Its members are joining the growing number of immigrant rights leaders who want President Barack Obama to use his executive powers to provide relief from deportations to undocumented immigrants who would qualify for an immigration reform. This comes as the Obama administration is nearing 2 million deportations.
“We believe that our demand needs to be bold,” Cristina Jimenez, co-founder and managing director of UWD, told VOXXI. “We want everybody in our community who is not a Dreamer to benefit from a deferred action-like program.”
With 52 affiliates in 25 states, UWD is the nation’s largest immigrant youth-led organization. The group’s members strategized on how to push for administrative relief from deportations while attending this year’s UWD National Congress, which ran from Friday to Sunday at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel. About 500 Dreamers and their allies from all over the country attended the event.
Several months prior to the congress, UWD affiliates met in six regional meetings to evaluate the work Dreamers have done over the last year, which includes stopping deportations and pushing for immigration reform alongside their parents. They also discussed what their new focus should be for 2014.
“The one thing that all of the affiliates said was we need to stop deportations and we need to get Obama to deliver administrative relief,” Jimenez said, adding that Dreamers also want to push for in-state tuition and financial aid for undocumented students.
In the absence of immigration reform, Dreamers want relief
UWD’s new goal to push for administrative relief from deportations comes at a time when the window of opportunity to pass immigration reform legislation this year is narrowing.
Speaking at the UWD National Congress on Saturday, Lorella Praeli, advocacy and policy director at UWD, explained the current political reality in Congress. On the Republican side, Praeli said the GOP “made a choice” not to pursue immigration reform and instead voted last year to defund the DACA program.
She added that Republicans are using the “delay until death strategy” on immigration reform. As an example of this, she pointed to how a week after releasing the GOP principles on immigration reform, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) came out saying it’s going to be “difficult” to move any legislation forward until the Obama administration “can be trusted to enforce our laws.”
On the other end, Praeli noted that Obama continues to say he doesn’t have the power to bypass Congress and stop deportations. Experts told PolitiFact.com the president is right. They say an executive action to stop all deportations would “violate the separation of powers between Congress and the executive branch.”
But Praeli and a growing number of immigrant rights leaders argue Obama does have the power to provide administrative relief from deportations to a broad group of undocumented immigrants. She pointed to a 41-page petition by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network that states the Obama administration has “extremely broad and virtually unreviewable discretion” on how to handle deportation proceedings.
“Here’s someone who says lets get immigration reform done — that’s President Obama — and simultaneously deports the people who would benefit from the bill he wants to pass,” Praeli told Dreamers.
Dozens of House Democrats who share the same belief as Praeli have publicly called on Obama to halt deportations. But Praeli said most congressional Democrats haven’t done that. She encouraged Dreamers to press Democrats to hold the president accountable on deportations.
“If you care about our community and our struggle, you better be out there talking to the president,” Praeli told Dreamers to tell Democrats. “These are the people that Latinos elected, so we should hold them accountable.”