Immigration reform advocates see high cost in delayed action on legislation

Several top immigration reform proponents are urging President Obama to make the issue a centerpiece of his second-term agenda, fearing that post-election momentum towards a bipartisan deal might be lost amid several other high-profile legislative battles. 

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Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) told The Hill he wants to “get the process rolling” on immigration reform legislation soon. 

Democrats and Republicans are "a lot closer" to agreement on immigration changes than many believe, while the two parties remain far apart on both budget issues and gun control, Gutierrez said. 

Yet those issues are now dominating the political agenda in Washington.  

"One thousand people are deported every day and about half of them live in families with children, so we can't wait and wait and wait for immigration reform to get rolling. We pay a price in broken families and hardship every day," Gutierrez, a leading congressional proponent of immigration reform, said in a statement responding to questions posed by The Hill.

"On [fiscal issues] and on guns, the parties are still pretty far apart, but on immigration I think the two parties are a lot closer than people think, based on my conversations with both Republicans and Democrats. We can make serious progress quickly."

On Friday, other immigration leaders made similar overtures, calling on Obama to slow down the rate at which the United States is deporting undocumented immigrants. 

The appeal for action was sparked by the arrest of the mother of one leading immigration reform activist, which was taken as evidence that administration policy needs to change.

"I am asking President Obama and his administration to stop separating families," said Erika Andiola, whose mother was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents Thursday. Maria Arreola was kept overnight before being released.

"We'll continue to put pressure on the Obama administration and Congress to work on a solution that provides a pathway to citizenship for our community, for DREAMers and for our families," Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream, said on a Friday conference call on deportation rates of undocumented immigrants. 

"We won't stop until we get that done in 2013.”

National Immigration Law Center Executive Director Marielena Hincapie said she believes immigration is a top Obama priority and that the administration could “walk and chew gum" by addressing it at the same time as other issues like the budget and gun control.

Some leading immigration reform proponents have privately expressed frustration that there hasn't been a more public push from the president on the issue. 

While Obama has said on a number of occasions he wants to see major legislation on immigration reform this year, he has yet to meet with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus since his reelection. 

By contrast, Obama named Vice President Biden to lead a task force on gun violence following the massacre last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It is expected to release recommendations next week. 

The upcoming fight over raising the debt ceiling also threatens to further delay action on immigration.

White House press secretary Jay Carney, however, hinted this week that Obama could outline plans for immigration reform in his State of the Union address next month. 

"I would say, broadly speaking, that State of the Union addresses tend to include at least a sample of a president's agenda," Carney said. "And immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform, is a very high priority of the president's. But I don't want to get ahead of the speech."

Gutierrez recently gave up his spot on the powerful House Financial Services Committee in exchange for a position on the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration issues.

"It is very premature to write the obituary for immigration reform, but we do need to get the process rolling so that the momentum towards getting something done [which] we all felt after Election Day is not squandered," he said.