Nearly a dozen illegal immigrations announced a campaign Wednesday to force President Obama’s hand on halting deportations, saying they would file papers demanding to be let into the existing program granting legal status to so-called Dreamers, although none qualifies.
Some of the immigrants came as children and would have qualified except they went home for college and then came back, while others are parents of Dreamers who already have legal status under Mr. Obama’s 2012 program. And one is Jose Antonio Vargas, a former Washington Post reporter who was a few months too old to qualify for the Dreamer policy, and whose case has become a flashpoint in the immigration debate.
Mr. Vargas, who travels the country advocating for illegal immigrants, said they often hear complaints from Americans who tell them they should get in the back of the immigration line. But he said that’s impossible for most illegal immigrants, saying there is “no line” for them to get in that would earn them legal status from within the U.S.
“This morning, by submitting our applications, we created a line, a process. Now it’s up to the Obama administration. The ball is in your court, Mr. President,” Mr. Vargas said.
Some of the 11 had never publicly outed themselves as illegal immigrants before, and as they addressed the press in a news conference in Washington, many of them said they were nervous.
The illegal immigrants aimed their plea at Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
The Department of Homeland Security didn’t respond to a request for comment on the applications.
Mr. Obama is pondering whether to expand his current nondeportation orders to include illegal immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and Dreamers, who have already received tentative legal status.
Mr. Obama’s legal ability to issue the original 2012 policy is already facing a court challenge, and his power to expand the policy is being heatedly debated within legal circles and on Capitol Hill.
Opponents say that if Mr. Obama were to expand his policy, it would doom any chance for working with Congress in 2015 or 2016 on a bigger immigration bill.
And if Republicans win control of the Senate, they would almost certainly use their near-complete control over spending bills to try to halt some of Mr. Obama’s nondeportation policies, forcing the president to have to choose between vetoing government spending or relinquishing on enforcement.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, is leading an effort to have activists push their senators to know where they stand on a bill that passed the House in July to halt Mr. Obama’s nondeportation policy, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
“The American people have begged and pleaded for years for our immigration laws to be enforced. But the politicians have refused,” Mr. Sessions said last week.
The 11 illegal immigrants are also seeking deferred action, which means an official grant of tentative legal status, a work permit to allow them to get jobs and potentially a number of state benefits such as in-state tuition fees and driver’s licenses.
The existing DACA policy applied to Dreamers — those who came to the U.S. illegally while under age 16, were under 31 as of June 15, 2012, and had been in the country continuously for five years leading up to that date.
It’s not clear how many of the 11 who filed applications Wednesday would be deported even without getting deferred action. Mr. Obama has said immigration agents should only target recent border crossers, those with significant criminal records or those who have previously been deported but who snuck back into the U.S.
Activists, though, say it is unfair to target those who have been deported and snuck back in, saying that crimes stemming from illegal immigration shouldn’t be considered in deciding who gets deported.
They also said that freedom from deportation isn’t enough — they need the work permits that come with deferred action in order to support their families.
The 11 who filed applications Wednesday said they are representative of the more than 11 million illegal immigrants estimated to be in the U.S.