By Mike Lillis - 07/25/14 03:57 PM EDT
Top Hispanic Democrats on Friday pressed the head of the Department of Homeland Security to rein in deportations of illegal immigrants.
The lawmakers, most of them leaders in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), are urging DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to take a number of unilateral steps to halt deportations for the sake of keeping immigrant families together.
"The president said in his State of the Union address that he would have a pen and a phone, and he would use that pen where the Congress didn't act," Gutierrez said Friday after the meeting. "If they [Republicans] don't like ... what the president does, then they should take action and send him bills."
Behind Gutierrez and CHC Chairman Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas), the Democrats are pushing a six-page list of actions they think Obama has the power to authorize without congressional approval, the same inventory they presented to Johnson in April and to Obama earlier this month.
At the top of the list is a recommendation to halt deportations on any illegal immigrants eligible to remain in the country under the reform legislation passed by the Senate last summer. As part of that effort, they want Obama to expand his two-year-old deferred action program – which legalizes qualified undocumented immigrants brought to the country as kids – to include their parents.
"It is in the national interest of the United States not to deport their parents," Gutierrez said.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and another member of the CHC, said Friday's discussion with Johnson was "frank" and "productive," but the DHS secretary is still weighing his options.
"It was pretty straight-up. ... We reiterated our recommendations and got some initial reactions," Grijalva said. "From the very beginning of this process it's been [a question of] what is going to be legally and constitutionally defensible given the fact that ... there's going to be litigation from the Republicans almost immediately."
Also attending Friday's meeting were Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), Joe Garcia (D-Fla.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). All are members of the CHC except for Lofgren, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee's subpanel on immigration and border security.
In March, Obama asked Johnson to examine the DHS's deportation policies and search for ways to make them 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, CHC members want Obama to use every executive tool at his disposal to keep immigrant families together.
"We don't know what their decision is going to be," Gutierrez said. "But we know that they're listening."