Immigration rights groups see such good prospects for legalizing illegal immigrants this year that President Obama should go ahead and halt deportations right now, saying it's unfair to kick people out just ahead of possible legalization.
The groups said Monday that at the very least, Mr. Obama could stop halting those illegal immigrants who would be eligible for legal status under the immigration bill being debated in a Senate committee this week.
"The president is not, and cannot, be a bystander in the process. This is a moment for him to intervene," said Pablo Alvarado, national coordinator of the National Day Labor Organizing Network. "It is in our view in the hands of President Obama to end this suffering."
He joined with the AFL-CIO, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and United We Dream on a phone news conference that ups the political pressure on Mr. Obama.
The president has tried to straddle a tricky line for most of his administration, telling conservatives he is setting records for deportations while telling immigration rights activists that he's only deporting serious criminals and repeat violators of immigration laws.
But Yvette Martinez says Mr. Obama broke that policy last week when his administration deported her husband, Roger, sending him to Honduras.
"Too may people are getting deported. Innocent people. The families are suffering, the children are suffering," said Ms. Martinez, who is an American citizen.
She said her husband was identified by federal authorities in February after a traffic stop, and she said he doesn't have a criminal record, which should have made him exempt from deportation under Mr. Obama's policies.
Immigration agents have sued to stop some of those nondeportation policies. Their case is before a federal judge in Texas, but if they win it could complicate the immigration debate further.
The Senate Judiciary Committee last week began voting on amendments to a bill that would grant quick legal status to illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before 2012 and who can show they have avoided a major criminal record.
The bill would even allow some illegal immigrants who already have been deported to apply to come back into the U.S. under the legalization — a provision that is controversial among many conservatives.
But only those who have legal resident family members in the U.S. could apply to return.
The groups said now that there's a Senate bill that lays out who could gain legal status, Mr. Obama has a framework he could act from.
The White House previously has denied these requests, saying it has an obligation to enforce existing laws.
Still, there is a precedent for what the groups are asking for.
Last year, after denying for three years that he had the authority to halt deportations for broad categories of people, Mr. Obama reversed himself and said he would halt deportations for young people who would have qualified for the Dream Act — even though the Dream Act never passed.
Part of the groups' goal is to try to prevent the Senate bill from becoming tougher on illegal immigrants if and when it gets to the Republican-controlled House. Immigration rights advocates hope to lock in the more lenient standards for legalization by pushing for the administration to begin using them now.
"It's dangerous to treat the bill as fragile because it's not fragile. By treating it as fragile, it really gives the nativists power," said Ana Avendano, who works on immigration issues for the AFL-CIO, an umbrella group for labor unions which has become a major advocate for passing a bill this year.
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