Congressional Democrats are circulating a petition pressing President Obama to extend a new temporary amnesty to more than a million illegal immigrants from Central America, saying the violence in their home countries makes it too dangerous to continue deporting anyone to the region.
The petition will ask Mr. Obama to grant temporary protected status to Central Americans, which would give them tentative legal status, work permits, and access to some benefits and tax credit.
Democrats want Mr. Obama to call a halt to a small series of raids over the weekend that rounded up more than 120 illegal immigrants from Latin America who had been ordered and deported, but were flouting a judge’s order.
TPS is usually granted in catastrophes such as natural disasters or war, and advocate say violent conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are the equivalent of those other situations.
“There is no difference between this and a hurricane — none,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, as he rallied with other activists outside the White House Friday morning.
Mr. Gutierrez said he and fellow Democrats will collect signatures on their petition over the next few days and want to force Mr. Obama to address the issue Tuesday when he delivers his final State of the Union address.
There are estimated to be more than 1.2 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — the three countries who are sending the most families and children right now. But Mexico is also part of the recent surge of families, and this week’s deportations. Including that and other Central American countries in the TPS it could mean a tentative amnesty for more than 8 million people.
The issue has come into stark focus in recent months as illegal immigrant families and children traveling alone — a problem the government thought it had licked in 2014 — have surged yet again.
Homeland Security announced a series of raids to round up and deport some of those who came in 2014 and who have already been ordered removed, but have refused to go. Some 121 illegal immigrants were rounded up in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina — well less than 1 percent of those who were caught in 2014 and 2015.
But the raids have incensed immigrant-rights advocates, who say the mothers and children targeted should be deemed refugees fleeing danger in their home countries, rather than illegal immigrants seeking to break into the U.S. for their own benefit.
Lawyers are challenging some of the new cases, and as of early Thursday morning they had won stays of deportation in a handful of cases. Meanwhile, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents had deported 77 of the 122 as of Thursday night.
The administration said it took pains to only target illegal immigrants who’d already been through their full court cases, had any asylum claims rejected, and had exhausted the time to file appeals.
Lawyers for the immigrants, however, said some of the families didn’t understand the proceedings and didn’t know they could appeal or file for asylum, meaning they didn’t get full due process.