Activists: We Want An Emancipator, Not A 'Deporter In Chief'
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For a while, Jasmine thought she could wait it out, that Congress would pass an immigration reform bill and her husband would have a chance at a path to citizenship. But so far, a bill that passed in the Senate last summer has been blocked by the Republican leadership in the House.
Pro-immigration reform activists are now shifting their focus away from the Republicans and back to President Obama. They say if Congress won't act, Obama can provide some relief for illegal immigrants. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.
RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Activists supporting immigration reform are angry and frustrated. The immigration reform bill is stalled out. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is on pace to deport some two million illegal immigrants since taking office six years ago.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: President Obama, where's your heart? The immigration system tears families apart.
GONZALES: That anger was evident in Alabama this week where a small group of undocumented residents and their supporters demonstrated in front of the Etowah County Detention Center. They called for an end to the deportations, and their chants specifically targeted the president.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Spanish spoken)
GONZALES: They chanted: Listen, Obama. We're in the fight. Like many pro-immigration activists around the country, they want the president to use his executive powers to curb the deportations.
Frank Sharry is executive director of an immigration advocacy group called America's Voice.
FRANK SHARRY: There are many activists who have already given up on the legislative route and say: House Republicans aren't going to act. Let's pressure the president. And much of our dynamic but sometimes fractious movement is already there.
GONZALES: Some activists got a chance to make their case directly to the president at the White House in a recent off-the-record meeting. They described how the deportations are hurting their communities. The president told the activists they should keep their focus on Congress to pass immigration reform over the next three months, says Sharry.
SHARRY: And if at the end of, say, three months or so, if Congress hasn't acted, then he made it clear that he would be prepared to see what he could do through executive action.
GONZALES: The three-month deadline is important because it pressures Congress to act before the August recess and the midterm election season kicks into high gear. According to published reports, the Department of Homeland Security might ease up on deportations of illegal immigrants with no criminal record. The administration could also scale back a controversial program in which local officials hold illegal immigrants until the Feds pick them up.
PABLO ALVARADO: There are many things that he could do that are within his authority.
GONZALES: Pablo Alvarado directs the National Day Laborer Organizing Network in Los Angeles.
ALVARADO: There is a national consensus now that people that would be legalized through the Senate bill that was passed last year should not be deported. And that bill is both supported by Democrats and Republicans. He could easily come and say: I'm not going to deport these people.
GONZALES: Whatever steps the administration takes, it's clear the White House is under pressure to placate its critics in the pro-immigration camp.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Some of that is just throwing a bone to the activist groups to keep them quiet until the election. It's a political calculation that's key.
GONZALES: Mark Krikorian is the executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, a D.C.-based group advocating immigration limits. He says any move to please Latino voters in November could also backfire.
KRIKORIAN: The result would be in a midterm election, not so much increasing the Democratic turnout, rather what it's likely to do is energize Republicans who already are predisposed to turn out in larger numbers.
GONZALES: But for now, immigration activists such as Pablo Alvarado still want to keep their pressure on the president.
ALVARADO: I voted for President Obama. I want him to succeed, to be a champion for us, an emancipator rather than a deporter in chief. But he has to make a choice, and that time is now.
GONZALES: Activists say they plan to take to the streets with their campaign to stop the deportations with a series of rallies and demonstrations across the country in April and May.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.