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Immigration activists occupy House of Representatives

Democrats went on offense over immigration this week, calling on President Obama to use the power of the pen.
By Gabrielle Levy   |   June 27, 2014 at 6:28 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, June 27 (UPI) -- A year to the day since the Senate passed its version of immigration reform, lawmakers and advocates went on offense.

Immigration activists said congressional Republicans have missed their deadline to act on immigration reform and are calling on President Obama to act immediately to halt deportations.

Groups have been arguing for the halt of deportations because they separate families, and a report from Immigration and Customs Enforcement revealed this week has only added fuel to the fire. The ICE documents, obtained by Huffington Post, found more than 72,000 deported immigrants left behind their U.S. Citizen children when they were removed to their own countries.

Members of United We Dream, a youth-led immigration advocacy group, descended upon Capitol Hill Friday to urge Democratic lawmakers to join in calling on the president to expand protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and stop deportations. Activists visited the offices of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Rep, Mark Amodei, R-Nev., Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., among others, Friday, even though most members had left the Hill for their districts ahead of the Fourth of July recess.

The protests came at the same time as congressional Democrats have stepped up pressure on President Obama to use executive power to stop removals, while continuing to plead with House Republicans to bringing up a vote on H.R. 15, the House version of the bipartisan Senate bill that provides a pathway to citizenship while improving border security.

So far, they have mostly been met with silence.

"When they said to us they want to do it piecemeal, we said ok.... We kept talking," said Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., who has led the charge in the House. "At each and every instance we have stayed at the table to compromise. I want to work in a bipartisan manner, but they keep saying no."

"In the absence of governing, you have to take executive actions," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

Earlier this year, President Obama agreed to delay a Department of Homeland Security review of deportation policies to give Republicans a chance to deal with the issue legislatively. Republicans rebuffed the offer, a response Gutiérrez said was all the worse because the president had made a grand gesture by reaching out while turning his back on his allies.

Republicans have given a number of reasons for their refusal. They claim they can't take up the Senate bill because it's too unwieldy and would rather deal with the issue piecemeal, and have said they can't act because they don't trust the president to enforce the laws. They frequently point to the president's direction to prioritize the deportation of criminal undocumented immigrants over any others as selectively interpreting the law.

Earlier this week, House Speaker John Boehner said he would sue the president over his use of executive orders, and though he did not specify which actions he planned to name, he has often brought up immigration enforcement in the past.

"The Constitution makes it clear that the president's job is to faithfully execute the laws, and in my opinion, the president has not faithfully executed the laws," Boehner said.

Growing numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the border from Central America have only intensified the issue, and Republicans have blamed the DACA policy, which allows work permits to certain undocumented workers who arrived as children, on encouraging illegal immigration.

More than 52,000 children have arrived since October, primarily from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, a number already twice as many as the entire previous year.

But Democrats say using the surge of children to reverse policies like DACA or avoid passing immigration reform is pure politics.

"House Republicans have made it clear they won't act on immigration reform until they can trust the President -- whatever that means -- to enforce the law, despite his tough record on border security," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "Republicans in the House have a choice: allow a vote on commonsense immigration reform in July, or be the ones to blame for killing it."

The White House has admitted that some of the recent surge in children can be blamed on misinformation about its policies, but Gutiérrez flipped that script.

"The only one that has said there are open borders and the president doesn't enforce the laws are the Republicans," he said. "If I were the drug cartels, I would take their word."

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