Activists fight immigrant roundups

Prod Obama to reduce numbers being deported

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With deportations up under President Obama, immigration rights advocates on Thursday called on him to use executive authority to reduce the number of illegal immigrants being deported, and vowed a city-by-city campaign to press the issue.

With Congress unlikely to act this year on a bill to legalize such immigrants, the advocates are appealing to the president to step in and halt deportations in the meantime. They said many illegal immigrants are the victims of a broken system and deserve to stay — particularly if they have children who were born here, thus are U.S. citizens who could be separated from their deported parents.

“In this climate, we cannot expect Congress to take action to right these wrongs, but change can still happen if President Obama can find the courage of his convictions,” said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

The activists said Mr. Obama promised action on immigration in his campaign, and feel slighted that he used his political capital to push other issues during his first two years in office.

Mr. Obama has said he wants Congress to act, but didn’t put legislative muscle behind the cause until the lame-duck session last year, when his belated efforts to legalize illegal-immigrant students and young adults fell short.

Democratic Reps. Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois (second from right) and Judy Chu of California (right), and Melisa Arellanos, 2, of Hyattsville, a U.S. citizen whose mother is facing deportation, listen during a Capitol Hill news conference on Thursday to launch the "Campaign for American Children and Families" tour. (Associated Press)

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Democratic Reps. Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois (second from right) and Judy ... more >

Cecilia Munoz, a top White House aide who works on immigration issues, said the solution is to pressure Congress to change the law.

“We have a broken system of immigration laws. But the fact they are broken and badly in need of reform is an argument for reforming the immigration laws,” she said. “We don’t believe it’s an argument that does allow the president to simply say there are laws that he will choose not to enforce.”

Ms. Munoz said they do use their leeway to tailor enforcement so it focuses more on criminal aliens than on average illegal immigrants.

The numbers bear that out.

In fiscal 2010, which ended Oct. 1, the federal government removed a record 392,862 aliens, resulting from a surge of nearly 60,000 more deportations of criminal aliens compared with 2009. Deportations of noncriminal immigrants here illegally, meanwhile, fell by more than 50,000.

The activists argue the president has authority to act based on a memo obtained last year by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, that showed Homeland Security Department officials had discussed options for granting “a non-legislative version of amnesty” to broad groups of illegal immigrants.

Among the options in the draft memo, which was addressed to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas, were deferring deportations and issuing new guidance to immigration inspectors to offer the maximum amount of leeway.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, who is helping organize the 20-city effort to highlight deportations, named Change Takes Courage, said Mr. Obama should not only curtail removals, but also cancel the partnerships that train local police to enforce federal immigration laws.

“We read in that leaked memo, the Mayorkas memo, that he has a great amount of leeway and prosecutorial discretion in how deportation policy is meted out and how resources are targeted in the government he runs,” Mr. Gutierrez said.

Also Thursday, Homeland Security announced an agreement with the Labor Department to refrain from workplace raids if labor officials are already investigating the business.

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