Immigration reform advocates, weary of the pace at which the legislation is moving in Congress, say they are growing dissatisfied with President Barack Obama’s approach and are calling on him to use his executive authority to send a message to lawmakers to fix the status quo now.
They want Obama to use executive action to suspend deportation, grant some form of administrative relief, and expand the "deferred action" program to the millions of undocumented immigrants waiting to come out of the shadows.
Obama, who has been out front on other contentious issues like gun control, largely stayed behind the scenes as senators crafted a comprehensive immigration reform bill, passed it and sent it to a reluctant House. That bill doubles patrol agents on the Mexican border and includes a path to citizenship for the undocumented. But the House is taking a piecemeal approach that is mainly focused on border security, interior enforcement and worker visas. If House Republicans do look at legalizing immigrants, they would likely limit their focus to children who were brought to America illegally.
Adelina Nicholls, executive director of Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, said bold action from the president will force a conversation about the issue. Her group is working with other advocates, who say Obama's involvement, now seen as a “Plan B”, should have been “Plan A.”
Nicholls added that it’s somewhat of a contradiction that Obama is talking about immigration reform while Congress has now pushed the issue to the back burner and more than 1,000 people are being deported daily.
“We are not waiting [until the end of 2013] to request, or to ask, or to demand President Barack Obama to give us an administrative relief,” Nicholls said. “I think we have kind of seen enough from the Congress, that inaction, the lack of participation and therefore, while they are in recess …[we] will be doing several events around the country in regards to that.”
Nicholls said with the introduction and implementation of Arizona-style anti-immigrant laws in other states, there is urgency in the immigrant community, as families are being separated and children left behind.
“I think right now [it’s] kind of a humanitarian crisis that we need to solve,” she said. “The most traumatic event in your life could be being separated from your parents.”
The separation and alleged racial profiling are fostering a lack of trust between immigrants and the police, she said.
“It is a problem,” she said. “It is a humanitarian crisis of our families.”
The Georgia Latino Alliance is working with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and other advocacy groups in several other states to mount pressure on the president to step to the forefront on the issue.
The NDLON seeks to improve the lives of laborers and protect and expand their rights. Chris Newman, the organization’s legal director, said his group supports the Georgia Latino Alliance’s approach, not because of a lack of faith that a 2013 immigration reform bill will pass, but because “bold action from the president in reducing deportation and expanding deferred action will actually improve chances for a good bill to make its way through Congress.”
Without Obama’s active involvement in the process, 14 Republican senators felt comfortable enough to back the measure in June so it could clear the chamber. Newman said he isn’t worried that having Obama at the helm on immigration reform would kill it. In fact, the president's reticence has done nothing to soothe the fears of some Republicans, but has “emboldened them.”
“Essentially, the president’s position is either the Republicans in the House should come around to support citizenship or he’ll be forced to keep deporting people,” Newman said. “That’s an untenable position. The president himself is responsible for deporting approximately 1,000 people per day and he has the power to stop doing that.
“One of the things that’s starting to emerge is that people are no longer satisfied allowing either political party to take political credit for sort of a continuation of the status quo,” he added. “For over 10 years immigration has been an issue that has been used for partisan advantage and we haven’t made any progress. In fact, the only time we ever made significant progress was when the president used his executive authority to grant deferred action to childhood arrivals. So I think the idea of allowing this to continue to be a kind of partisan football … those days are over. People want to see results and we want to see results from both Congress and also the executive branch.”