By Mike Lillis - 07/11/14 01:30 PM EDT
Hispanic Democrats are heading to the White House to urge President Obama to take “bold” steps to reduce deportations.
The lawmakers, representing the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), say they'll push hard for Obama to halt deportations for millions of illegal immigrants who don't currently qualify for the president's 2012 deferred action program.
“I think the president can take actions to put all of those who would have been legalized by the Senate bill, for example, in a safe place and take them out of the deportation queue so we concentrate our resources on high priority deportations,” Gutierrez, flanked by more than a dozen other CHC members, said Friday during a press briefing.
“Even though the bill was stopped by House Republicans, the president has the latitude to put that large a group in a safe place.”
Gutierrez said the lawmakers won't be mincing words.
“When we meet with the president, there will not be the kind of speaking order you see here today,” Gutierrez said. “We will all raise our voices at that meeting.”
Details about when the gathering will take place are still being worked out with the White House, but CHC Chairman Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas) said it will happen “in just a few days.”
The meeting will come as the administration is weighing changes to its deportation policies. Facing increased pressure from liberal Democrats and immigrant rights advocates, Obama in March asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to examine ways to make those policies more “humane.” Johnson's report is expected at the end of the summer.
The long timeline was designed to allow Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) more space to bring an immigration bill to the floor this summer — a route the Speaker has since ruled out.
With Congress at an impasse, the CHC members want Obama to use every executive tool at his disposal to keep immigrant families together.
In April, CHC leaders had delivered six pages of policy recommendations to Johnson, laying out the specific changes the lawmakers think Obama has the power to adopt on his own. The Hispanic lawmakers said they'll be toting the same document at their meeting with Obama.
“These are things he can do,” Gutierrez said. “We want the president … to be bold, and to be generous, and to be broad in using his discretion to stop the deportations.”
Republicans have long criticized the deferred-action program, which allows some high-achieving illegal immigrants brought to the country as children to remain and work without fear of deportation.
Many of those GOP critics are blaming that program for fueling the current migrant crisis at the southern border. They say it's encouraged the notion — false, it turns out — that the new arrivals would be eligible to remain in the United States under deferred action.
“This is a problem of the president's own making,” Boehner told reporters Thursday.
Expanding deferred action, the critics contend, would only make matters worse.
“The Obama administration's lax immigration enforcement has given confidence to parents who are in the U.S. illegally that they can stay and now they are finding ways to bring their children, who are still in Central America, to the United States unlawfully,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote Friday in an op-ed for Breitbart News.
It's an argument the Hispanic Democrats reject outright.
“Yes, we have a crisis at the border,” Gutierrrez said. “[But] we cannot allow that crisis at the border to let us forget … that everyday 1,000 people are deported, that there are millions of American citizen children whose parents are undocumented and fear deportation.”