More than two dozen Democrats on Thursday sent a letter to President Barack Obama, calling on him to help restart the immigration reform debate in Congress by suspending deportation. They also asked the nation’s chief executive to go a step further and expand “deferred action,” a program that would grant these immigrants reprieve.
The lawmakers’ formal request to the president came more than a week after he was heckled at a California event by an immigrant who asked that Obama use his executive power to protect immigrants from the laws under what they describe as a broken system.
“Our efforts in Congress will only be helped by the sensible and moral step of stopping deportations,” the letter read.
“As we have seen with deferred action for childhood arrivals, such relief brings with it the benefit of active participation in the debate by undocumented people themselves,” the letter continued. “When their stories are known and voices are heard, we have witnessed how the debate shifts. The fear and xenophobia that block progress only shrink in the display of their courage.”
The lawmakers, who include Rep. Luiz Gutierrez, D-Ill., stated that if left unchecked, the threat of deportation prevents many from coming forward and sharing their stories.
“Instead, the specter of deportation removes the human and grounding element in any political discussion -- those individuals who are most directly impacted,” they wrote.
Last year, Obama used his discretion to stop deportation for certain groups of Americans who were brought here when they were children. In June, the Democratic-led Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill they hoped to pass before 2013 ends. That bill would have secured the border and provide the undocumented with what some lawmakers call a “hard-earn” 13-year pathway to citizenship. The Congressional Budget has said that enacting a version of that reform would reduce the deficit. However, leaders of the House of Representatives have said they will not take up the upper house’s measure and will instead use a piecemeal approach to find a solution. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, has since employed Rebecca Tallent, the director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, to help shape the conservative version of reform. Tallent has been a longtime advocate of reform.
Still, the House GOP has said immigration reform bills will not be tackled this year, as time doesn’t allow it. Lawmakers are working to solve a host of issues that includes passing a formal budget and farm bill before this legislative session ends in a few weeks.
When asked this morning if the house GOP will allow an immigration reform bill on the floor next year and what it will look like, Boehner said for the last 13 months he has spoken of the need for Congress to take up “this very important issue.”
“I’ve been committed to it. I’m still committed to it,” Boehner said at the weekly press conference. “I’ve also said that dealing with a 1,300 page bill that no one’s read is a nonstarter for us. We’re going to try to do this in a common sense step-by-step approach.”
The speaker pointed out that members on both side of the isle have been working diligently to work out the process.
When asked if he’s confident Congress will get it done in 2014, Boehner had this to say: “Listen, I’ve learned a long time ago from this podium not to make a lot of predictions.”
Specifically on the issue of deportations, when a report asked if the president has the authority to increase the number of immigrants exempt from explosion, the speaker said Obama, like himself, has an obligation to uphold and defend the laws.
“If the law is clear that people who have violated the law, they should receive the punishment that’s outlined in the law,” Boehner said.
Obama has repeatedly said he will not extend deferred action and that he chooses the hard route, which is lobbying Congress. The White House has said the only solution is a congressional fix.
Here’s the full letter that the Democrats sent to the president:
December 5, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President,
The undersigned Members of Congress respectfully request that you suspend any further deportations and expand the successful deferred action program to all those who would be potential citizens under immigration reform.
We stand by the 543 faith-based, labor, neighborhood, legal, and civil rights organizations, including the AFL-CIO, MALDEF, United We Dream, and NDLON that support this proposal, and agree that this is the best way to advance the path to citizenship for undocumented individuals across the country.
We appreciate your commitment to reforming our nation’s broken immigration policies for the benefit of all. In the context of the intransigence of a small number of legislators that are willing to hold the legislation hostage unless we pass a series of incredibly extreme proposals, a cessation of the deportation of the 1,100 potential citizens expelled daily would do a great deal to set the parameters of the conversation.
Let us not take these policies lightly. Every deportation of a father, a sister, or a neighbor tears at our social consciousness; every unnecessary raid and detention seriously threatens the fabric of civil liberties we swore to uphold. We are talking about American families and American communities. Criminalizing American families or giving local law enforcement the responsibility to choose who stays and who goes, is not the right option.
Our efforts in Congress will only be helped by the sensible and moral step of stopping deportations.
As we have seen with deferred action for childhood arrivals, such relief brings with it the benefit of active participation in the debate by undocumented people themselves. When their stories are known and voices are heard, we have witnessed how the debate shifts. The fear and xenophobia that block progress only shrink in the display of their courage. But left unchecked, the threat of deportations will prevent so many from coming forward and contributing to the national conversation. Instead, the specter of deportation removes the human and grounding element in any political discussion—those individuals who are most directly impacted.
The senseless opposition that neither reflects the public will, nor the moral responsibility we hold, should not allow us to prolong the needless suffering of those who could so soon have their place in our society fully recognized. In fact, taking a strong step toward granting relief would move us in the direction of where the immigration debate rightfully should start, with the legalization of eleven million men and women who call the United States their home.
As the debate proceeds, it is necessary to expand the protections of our future citizens that were established by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and grant it to the family and neighbors and all of those who have made their lives here but are yet to be fully recognized.
We cannot continue to witness potential citizens in our districts go through the anguish of deportation when legalization could be just around the corner for them. We look to you to firmly contribute to advancing inclusion for immigrants by suspending deportations and expanding DACA.
Raúl M. Grijalva Yvette Clarke
Madeleine Bordallo Tony Cárdenas
John Delaney Lloyd Doggett
Eni Faleomavaega Sam Farr
Alan Grayson Luis Gutiérrez
Alcee L. Hastings Filemon Vela
Eleanor Holmes-Norton Rush Holt
Michael Honda Sheila Jackson-Lee
Barbara Lee John Lewis
Alan Lowenthal Gwen Moore
Grace Napolitano Beto O’Rourke
Mark Pocan Charles Rangel
Bobby L. Rush Jan Schakowsky
Mark Takano Dina Titus
Laura is a U.S. politics reporter for the International Business Times. She was always fascinated by the BBC World News each morning on the radio in Jamaica. That, and a love...