By Mike Lillis - 06/27/14 07:24 PM EDT
Scores of young immigrants stormed Capitol Hill on Friday to press leaders in both parties to rein in deportations for the sake of their families.
The activists – most of them undocumented immigrants who have enrolled in President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – are fighting GOP efforts to scrap that initiative while simultaneously pressing Democrats to fight harder for its immediate expansion.
Their decision to target both parties highlights that advocates are increasingly resigned to the notion that reform legislation is dead this year, and are shifting their focus instead to DACA – both the GOP's efforts to dismantle it and Obama's decision to delay any expansion of it until August.
Issa this week churned headlines with a letter calling for the end of DACA, which he blames for growing the wave of child migrants at the border; Boehner announced a coming lawsuit against Obama for alleged executive overreach – which advocates see as a direct threat to DACA; and Democratic leaders, including Wasserman Schultz, continue to back Obama's delay in unilateral action in hopes that Republicans will act on an immigration bill in July.
That delay – and the Democrats' defense of it – isn't sitting well with the reform advocates, who don't think the Republicans will consider the issue before November's elections and want Obama to step in immediately for the sake of keeping families together.
"We will continue to fight until President Obama comes out and expands deferred action and stops the deportations," said Ray Jose, 23, a DACA enrollee who came to the United States from the Philippines as a child. "We cannot wait."
Echoing that message, Leslie Alvarado, 23, a linguistics major at the University of New Mexico and a DACA beneficiary, said she traveled to Washington this week on behalf of her mother.
"I'm tired of her working a job that doesn't respect her, that doesn't give her days off," Alvarado said.
They brought that message to Wasserman Schultz's office on Friday, where roughly 30 activists met with several of her staff to ask that Democrats increase the pressure on Obama to expedite his timeline on possible executive action to stem deportations.
Spokesman Sean Bartlett said afterwards that the Florida Democrat is sympathetic to their concerns, but is still holding out hope that Republicans will act on legislation next month. He noted that Wasserman Schultz backed a recent proposal, sponsored by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), to prevent the parents of children born in the United States from being deported.
"The onus is on Speaker Boehner to bring comprehensive immigration reform to the House without delay," Bartlett said in an email. "The Senate has passed it, the American people want it, and there are enough votes in the House to get it done."
The activists say the Democrats are dreaming if they think the Republicans will act.
"Why do they think something's going to happen after a year of inaction?" asked Julieta Garibay, legislative affairs associate for United We Dream, the advocacy group that organized Friday's protest. "Democrats have a choice: They can either be the deportation party or they can come out for our families."
At Boehner's office, the activists found a locked door that went unanswered. They left behind a mock citation criticizing the Speaker for refusing to bring an immigration bill to the floor, and for threatening the lawsuit against Obama.
While Boehner did not mention immigration in announcing the suit – citing only healthcare, energy, foreign policy and education – immigration reformers are wary that DACA could be on the chopping block as well.
Boehner's office declined to comment Friday.
At Issa's office, spokesman Frederick Hill met with three activists to discuss Issa's letter calling for the end of DACA.
Outside of Issa's Rayburn office, several dozen protesters hummed "We Shall Overcome;" inside Issa's office, staffers locked the door.
After nearly an hour, the sides agreed to disagree about DACA's effects on the migrant crisis at the border.
"President Obama’s DACA policy has reinforced a problematic perception that as long as unaccompanied child immigrants make it across our borders, they will eventually be offered a path to stay," Hill said in an email afterwards. "This policy has created a dangerous situation that puts children in danger."
Carlos Rojas, a United We Dream coordinator who met with Hill, had a decidedly different take, accusing Issa and the Republicans of politicizing the border crisis in an attempt to energize conservatives ahead of November.
"I call bluff," Rojas said. "I really think that this is a stupid, cheap, short-term political move."