2 Senators seek fewer deportations
By SEUNG MIN KIM | 3/5/14 5:11 PM EST Updated: 3/5/14 9:43 PM EST
Two influential Democratic senators are endorsing calls from the Latino and immigrant-rights groups pressuring the Obama administration to halt deportations of most undocumented immigrants – a growing demand from advocates as prospects for reform on Capitol Hill continue to be dim.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, told reporters Wednesday that he has been urging Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and other administration officials to reduce the number of deportations of immigrants who are in the country illegally. Criteria that the administration could use is to allow immigrants who would qualify for legalization under the Senate’s sweeping immigration overhaul bill that passed last summer, Durbin said.
“If we’re dealing with strictly technical violations of immigration law, I don’t believe they should be deported,” Durbin said. “If there’s a criminal record, it’s totally different.”
The remarks from the powerful Democrat, who was a member of the bipartisan Gang of Eight that wrote the comprehensive reform legislation, came one day after another key lawmaker, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), called on the Obama administration to suspend what he called “needless” deportations.
Like Durbin, Menendez was a part of the Gang of Eight that crafted the immigration bill.
“While we continue waiting for the House of Representatives to wake up and move on immigration reform legislation, I urge the president to take action today and halt needless deportations that are splitting apart our families and communities,” Menendez said at a National Council of La Raza gala on Tuesday evening. “The current deportation apparatus is an outrage, and it’s a tragedy.”
The rising number of deportations under President Barack Obama is a sore spot between the White House and immigration advocates, who have increasingly trained their fire at the administration for what they see as unnecessary removals of undocumented immigrants from the United States. The administration is poised to mark 2 million deportations under Obama sometime this spring.
On Thursday, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network – an advocacy group that is among the most critical of the administration’s deportation policies – will announce plans for a “day of action” April 5 to bring attention to the deportations and call on Obama to provide relief.
National Council of La Raza President Janet Murguia, whose organization is the nation’s largest Latino advocacy group, called Obama the “deporter-in-chief” in her gala speech Tuesday. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) continued on that theme on the House floor Wednesday, when he posed a “quiz” meant to make the case that Obama has deported and detained more immigrants than his two predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Still, other key Democratic lawmakers are unwilling to be so critical of the administration.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Wednesday that he supports unification of immigrant families, and “one way” to solve that issue is for the Republican-led House to move on immigration reform.
“The president’s done a lot administratively, he’ll do everything that he can,” Reid said. “But he can only do what he can do within the confines of the law.”
Meanwhile, advocates are making it clear that they aren’t relieving pressure on Capitol Hill, either.
La Raza and a slew of other Latino advocates are holding an event Thursday where they will cast mock ballots in favor of immigration reform outside the office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who sets the floor schedule. The demonstration is meant to show Republicans that “how they handle immigration in the next 10 months will determine the politics of the next decade,” La Raza said.