By Mike Lillis - 03/09/14 12:00 PM EDT
Immigration reformers are intensifying their pressure on President Obama to scale back deportations of illegal immigrants.
The advocates are urging the administration to expand its deferred action program, which allows some youngsters in the U.S. illegally to remain in the United States temporarily, to include unthreatening adults.
“At the same time I am critical of Republicans for what they are not doing, I am going to be critical of the president for what he is doing,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said Friday during a press call on the topic. “At some point, someone has to stand up for the immigrant community and give a voice to the voiceless. When I see politicians hiding behind excuses, I have to call them on it.”
Janet Murguía, head of the National Council of La Raza, also hammered Republicans for refusing to take up a comprehensive bill, saying their claims that Obama wouldn't enforce such a law is merely an excuse not to act. But she also criticized Obama's deportation policies, saying they're unnecessarily tearing apart immigrant families.
“He is enforcing the law,” Murguía said. “[But] we see that he has a policy of prosecutorial discretion that gives him the ability to do more.”
Both Gutiérrez and Murguía churned headlines this week by referring to Obama as the “deporter in chief” — a reference to the nearly 2 million deportations under Obama's tenure, the highest number for any administration in American history.
Gutiérrez said that criticism was made in full recognition that Obama has also long pushed Congress to overhaul the nation's immigration system, which all sides of the debate consider to be broken.
“When I and others call the president the 'deporter in chief,' that is not contradictory with the president being a champion of immigration reform legislation,” Gutiérrez said. “Look, I want President Obama to be the 'bill-signer in chief,' and I think we are all pushing in the same direction.”
On Friday, Murguía suggested she would not continue using the term.
“I think I've made my point,” she said.
The remarks come just days after Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) urged Obama to use his executive pen to halt deportations for illegal immigrants with close family ties to the United States.
The issue presents Obama with a dilemma: If he continues to wait for Republicans to move legislation, he'll alienate some Latino voters while angering Democrats and other immigration reformers already irate over his high deportation numbers. But if he curtails deportations with another executive action, he risks easing the pressure on Republicans to move a bill, while also providing ammunition for GOP critics already accusing Obama of executive overreach.
Faced with those thorny dynamics, immigration reformers like Gutiérrez and Murguía say they'll be pressuring all sides.
"We're tired of the finger pointing, and we're going to push on both parties and … put pressure on both fronts to do more," Murguía said. "We will make sure we do everything we can to build our political power so that there will be political consequences either in the midterms or … in 2016."
Some advocates are urging House Democratic leaders to introduce a discharge petition as an attempt to force a House vote on the issue. Gutiérrez said Friday he supports that plan, but that strategy alone, he warned, won't get a bill to Obama's desk.
"Nobody believes you're going to get 218 people to sign the discharge [petition]," he said, "but it's a tool to put pressure and to highlight the inaction of the Republican majority.
"I just want to make very clear," Gutiérrez added, "you cannot simply talk about demanding a vote without speaking to the issue of the president using his executive authority — which he has … — to protect our community."