The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has been clear that deporting young people who have lived in the U.S. for years and were brought here through no fault of their own as children should not be the targets of deportation. Led by Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems urge Grayson to end Senate bid Reid: Trump is a 'hateful con man' Reid: DNC never gave Sanders a ‘fair deal’ MORE (D-Nev.) and Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinSyria activists cheer Kaine pick Democratic National Convention event calendar Opioid package clears key Senate hurdle MORE (D-Ill.), this spring twenty-two senators asked the president to use the discretionary powers he has under current law to set DREAM-eligible young people aside and protect them from deportation.
Even the president himself has made the rhetorical case to suspend deportations for this specific group of people. In his most recent State of the Union Address in January, he said:
"Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense."
It makes no sense for young immigrants raised in the U.S. to live under the threat of deportation and there is one person who can do something about it, President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaAn important week for Puerto Rico In Philadelphia Clinton and Trump should start naming their foreign policy picks Jesse Jackson group urges blacks to unite — and vote MORE.
When the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with the president last month, we reiterated our call for a halt to the deportations of these young people. The president appears to agree. He concedes that he has this power under existing law and legal scholars concur. The question is whether President Obama has the conviction and desire to fight for these young immigrants by stopping their deportations.
We know in some cases, deportations have been deferred, but usually after a public campaign, a petition drive, a viral social media clamor or significant media coverage, much of which is being driven by students and young people -- immigrants and their committed U.S.-born allies.
But it should not have to come to that. Several times a month, I hear from DREAMers who were picked up or received notices of deportation. Some have even been deported. Should I line up each week with my congressional colleagues to have each individual case reviewed by the President? His staff? Will Secretary Napolitano hold office hours?
Except for some House Republicans and a small but vocal minority of anti-immigration activists, everyone thinks deporting such long-term residents is silly, self-defeating, and un-American. We should have a clear process to protect young people who were raised in this country. When the majority of the House and Senate vote to go further and actually legalize the status of these all-but-Americans, the political space is open for you, Mr. President, to do what is right and just.
We should allow DREAMers to declare that they are not criminals, that they want to be here, want to fully participate in their society and get on the books. We should make college, work and military service available to them. At the very least, they should know that there is a policy - a set of guidelines and procedures - that will be followed if they are detained or get word from authorities that they must leave. They need to know that deportation is dead in the water until at least the Congress acts or a different president makes a different decision regarding who are priorities for deportation and who are not.
In my experience, young people fighting for the passage of the DREAM Act and to prevent the deportation of those who are eligible are among the most committed and fearless advocates for change in this country. They are winning legislation at the state level to grant in-state tuition to all state residents and that legislation is holding up in court.
You want them fighting on your side, Mr. President. Meet with DREAM Act students as I have. Listen to what they are facing, Mr. President. If House Republicans decide - in their infinite wisdom and boundless sense of decency - that they want to fight you and insist that America deport some of its brightest future leaders, you would have no better allies in that fight than the young people whose futures are directly at stake, not to mention the communities from coast to coast who love them and support them.
I know that DREAMers, like most immigrants, want you fighting for them and to know your commitment to their legal status in this country goes beyond speeches and a call for legislation. Your action - or lack thereof - to prevent their deportation will speak volumes, not just to them but to millions of your supporters who want them to stay.
Gutierrez is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
A version of this op-ed originally appeared in The Huffington Post.