Frustration with White House mounts for immigration advocates

September 18, 2013

Advocates reacted angrily Wednesday to President Obama's refusal to use executive action to halt deportations of unauthorized immigrants, as frustration over the delay of immigration legislation began to blow back to the White House.


Undocumented immigrants protest outside the White House on Wednesday. (David Nakamura/The Washington Post)

Shortly after 10:15 a.m., seven undocumented workers handcuffed themselves to the north gates of the White House, unfurling a sign with Obama's image and the words: "Mr. President Stop Deportations". They chanted "not one more!" and "si se puede," a Spanish phrase that roughly translates to "yes we can," Obama's 2008 campaign slogan.

The group, which was cheered on by friends and relatives, were from Arizona, New York, Georgia and Louisiana and were affiliated with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

Pablo Alvarado, the organization's executive director, challenged Obama in a statement, saying the president "has the power to reduce deportations, the legal authority to expand deferred action, and the political obligation to lead the national debate through bold action. ... Unless the President alters course, he risks cementing his legacy as having presided over the most anti-immigrant administration in history."

After about 45 minutes, the protesters were arrested by authorities and removed from the area. But their actions spoke for a wider swath of immigration advocates who said they were disappointed that Obama, in an interview with Telemundo, said it was "not an option" for his administration to expand a deferred deportation program he announced last year for young people who were brought to the country illegally as children.

Obama said doing so “would be ignoring the law in a way that would be very difficult to defend legally.” His administration has been deporting more than 1,000 people a day, and nearly 410,000 last year, a record number.

The president said he remained focused on pushing for the Republican-controlled House to hold a vote on a Senate-approved comprehensive immigration bill that features a path to citizenship for most of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. But House leaders have said they will not accept that legislation and have focused on smaller-scale bills dealing with border security.

Advocates have focused their attention on Republicans, but some of the anger has boomeranged back on the Obama administration.

Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream, said that young immigrants "will not let President Obama off the hook for his role in the moral crisis our nation faces. ... He does have the power to stop deportations and we will keep challenging him."

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Ed O'Keefe | September 18, 2013