A Democratic congressman from Illinois was among those arrested outside the White House on Tuesday as they demanded President Obama halt deportations, which have skyrocketed under his watch.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a vocal critic of Mr. Obama on immigration policy, said the president is right to blame the Republicans for the stalemate on an immigration bill, but argued that his fellow Illinois Democrat has executive-branch authority he could exercise in the meantime.
“The president says Republicans are blocking immigration reform and he’s right, but it doesn’t get him off the hook,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “Everyone knows he has the power to stop deporting [children of illegal immigrants] and others with deep roots in the U.S. and we think he should use it.”
Mr. Gutierrez was released shortly after his arrest and his spokesman said he made it back to the House chamber in time to vote on legislation Tuesday evening.
Indeed, deportations under Mr. Obama’s watch have eclipsed preceding administrations, drawing the ire of many Hispanics, who comprise a crucial voting bloc — one credited with helping sweep Mr. Obama into power back in 2008 when he won a 67 percent share of their votes.
For his part, Mr. Obama has argued he doesn’t have the power to stop deporting illegal immigrants, a point he made in a Monday speech to the Council of La Raza, one of the country’s largest Hispanic advocacy organizations.
“These are the laws on the books,” he told the crowd. “I swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know very well the real pain and heartbreak that deportations cause. I share your concerns and I understand them.”
Still, when the president told the crowd he wished he could bypass Congress on immigration but he can’t, a chant erupted of “Yes you can!” — a play on his 2008 campaign motto of “Yes we can.”
That same motto was repeated in Spanish across from the White House in Lafayette Park on Tuesday, where Mr. Gutierrez joined several hundred activists in a protest under a banner reading in all-capital letters: “Stop Separating Our Families — One Million Deported Under President Obama.”