Immigration advocates to Obama: Don’t let Dems ‘stand in the way’

Immigration rights advocates are pushing President Obama to brush aside calls from fellow Democrats to delay executive action on deportations until after the election.

"I say to the Democrats: Stand aside," Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said during a press call Wednesday. "Let the president make a decision; let him announce it; and stop this stopping the progress of our community towards justice."

Other advocates piled on.

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"The president said that he was ready to take bold action, and a few Democrats should not stand in the way," said Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, deputy vice president of policy at the National Council of La Raza. 

"Right now, Republicans own letting the country down on delivering a solution," she added. "If some Democrats step in to prevent executive action, then the Democrats will co-own that inaction and the devastation that continues to be wreaked on our communities."

In June, Obama warned GOP leaders that, in the absence of congressional action on immigration reform, he would consider unilateral policy changes recommended by top administration officials "before the end of the summer" and adopt them "without further delay."

But a number of Senate Democrats facing tough reelection bids have pushed back against that plan, wary that new executive actions will energize GOP voters who oppose immigration reform and feel Obama is prone to abusing his powers.

"The best thing would be for Congress to act," Sen. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuProject Veritas at risk of losing fundraising license in New York, AG warns You want to recall John McCain? Good luck, it will be impossible CNN producer on new O'Keefe video: Voters are 'stupid,' Trump is 'crazy' MORE (D-La.), who's battling for a fourth term, said last month.

The White House in recent days has walked back Obama’s "end of the summer” promise, insisting there is no timetable for potential executive action.

"It's hard for me to … draw any clear conclusions about what the president's timing will be," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday. "There is the chance that it could be before the end of the summer. There is the chance that it could be after the summer."

Gutiérrez and other immigrant rights advocates say any delay would be a mistake both politically and in policy terms. They noted that Democrats benefitted at the polls in 2012, just a few months after Obama adopted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — which halted deportations for some illegal immigrants brought to the country as kids — and predicted a similar outcome if Obama acted again ahead of this year's midterms.

"The debate before DACA was, 'Oh my god, it's going to blow up in his face,'" Frank Sharry, head of America's Voice, an advocacy group, said Wednesday. "It had just the opposite effect. It mobilized progressives; it thrilled Latinos and Asian American and immigrant voters; it won over Independents; and it divided Republicans." 

Aside from Landrieu, Democratic Sens. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (Alaska), Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (Ark.) Mark UdallMark Emery UdallDemocratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' MORE (Colo.) and Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganPolitics is purple in North Carolina Democrats can win North Carolina just like Jimmy Carter did in 1976 North Carolina will be a big battleground state in 2020 MORE (N.C.) are also in highly competitive races this cycle.

Begich said last month that he's leery of what Obama might do by executive order, particularly if the policy changes provide "amnesty" to illegal immigrants.

"To me, securing our borders has to be the priority, and that should be the President’s focus," Begich said.

Gutiérrez, when asked Wednesday which of the Democrats he's targeting, said "any and all … who have asked for the president to delay [executive action], whether they've done it publicly or unbeknownst to us.

"Democrats have to come to understand that you can't pick and choose what year you're for immigrants," he said. "You can't pick and choose when they're good for you."

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE (R-Ohio) added this week to the pressure Obama faces on the issue. The Speaker, who has declined to take up immigration reform legislation this year in the face of conservative opposition, said Tuesday that he might reconsider next year — depending on what Obama does with his executive pen in the meantime.

"I would hope that the president would continue to follow the law, and begin to take steps that would better secure our border," BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE said on Hugh Hewitt's radio show. "It would create an environment where you could do immigration reform in a responsible way next year."

Immigrant rights advocates, meanwhile, are warning that inaction on the part of the White House would only further alienate Latino voters already disenchanted that Obama hasn't made good on his 2008 and 2012 campaign promise to deliver comprehensive immigration reform.

"We need leadership at this moment, but where we have demanded leadership and courage we've received false hope and a lack of political backbone by this administration. And today we say, 'Enough,'" said Lorella Praeli, head of policy for United We Dream, an advocacy group. 

"We'll be ready to take up the fight with Senate Democrats, with Democratic Party leadership and with the administration," Praeli added. "We're here and we're ready to escalate." 

— This story was updated at 4:02 p.m.