Immigration advocates ask Obama to suspend some deportations


Members of Campaign for Citizenship prayed at the start of a Senate hearing on immigration reform last week. (Photo by Ed O'Keefe via Instagram)

Immigration advocates called on President Obama on Monday to suspend deportations of undocumented workers who would qualify for legal status under a comprehensive immigration bill being debate in the Senate.

With an estimated 1,100 illegal immigrants per day being deported from the United States, the advocates said Obama has a moral obligation to stop breaking up families when lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow most of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status.

“The president is not and cannot be a bystander in the process,” said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “This is the moment for him to intervene.”

The advocates have been frustrated with the high levels of deportations during Obama’s presidency -- more than 410,000 undocumented workers were deported last year, an all-time high. Obama declined a similar request to stop deportations in February during a meeting at the White House with Latino, Asian-American, African-American and labor leaders.

At that time, the president emphasized that he is focused on “getting reformed passed, and not easing up on enforcement,” the advocates said. Republicans, and some Democrats, would like raise concerns if the administration were to ease up on deportations during the debate over comprehensive reform, the president told them.

Asked why the president's response might be different now, the advocates said that the political climate has changed since a bipartisan Senate group filed the comprehensive immigration legislation. The bill would allow undocumented immigrants who arrived before Dec. 31, 2011, and have not committed other crimes, a chance to earn a green card in 10 years and citizenship three years after that.

“We know what the legislation says,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “We are simply demanding they act in a way that’s consistent with those principles.”

“In the last three months, the momentum on the ground has changed,” said Lorella Praeli, director of advocacy and policy for United We Dream. “The coalition and people and organizations coming together making the ask-and-push is unseen before. I think the time has changed. If the president is serious about making sure families are together and people go through the path and not removing people who have been here 5, 7, 10 years, he needs to step up and respond.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday will hold the second hearing to amend the bipartisan immigration bill, followed by another on Thursday. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has said he hopes to hold a vote on the bill by the end of the month, potentially sending it to the full Senate in early June. House Republican leaders are weighing whether to consider a comprehensive bill or break the bill into pieces, a tactic opposed by Democrats and the White House.

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Ed O'Keefe | May 13, 2013