Representative Luis Gutierrez is one of our fiercest champions on immigration reform, and isn’t afraid to speak truth to power. Quite admirably, he never backs down — even when the person he’s challenging is one of the most powerful people in the world: President Barack Obama.
“Today’s New York Times editorial, ‘A Start on the Dream,’ eloquently makes a point I have been trying to make to the President of the United States since at least December 2010,” Rep. Gutierrez writes in a piece published at the Huffington Post. “Namely, that as Chief Executive, President Obama has extraordinary leeway under our current immigration laws to prevent the deportation of certain immigrants if it is not in our national interest to deport them.”
The powers the President has to close or favorably resolve deportation cases have been enumerated for him by a number of experts inside and outside of his government. In early 2011, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus appealed to the president to use these powers, as did a group of 22 Senate Democrats. A memo from his own staff in 2009, the opinion of legal experts – including two former INS General Counsels — and now an open letter signed by nearly 100 law school professors all concur that the president is firmly within the law to halt deportations for immigrants that meet certain criteria.
Indeed, the President currently uses — and previous presidents have used — those powers all the time. When Cubans reach the U.S., they are paroled as a matter of policy and become eligible for permanent legal status and citizenship quickly. It is in our national interest to do so, whether they are economic or political refugees. When the tragic earthquake in Haiti made returning orphans unwise, President Obama acted to suspend certain deportations because it was in our national interest to do so.
And in June of 2011, the Obama Administration announced it would exercise some of its powers of prosecutorial discretion to close or resolve deportation cases against those who meet certain criteria that made them low priorities for deportation so that our limited deportation slots could be used for felons and serious criminals.
I applauded that policy announcement in June 2011 and have spent the last year promoting its application to deportation cases that split up families with U.S. citizen dependents, military families, DREAM Act youth, and others with no criminal record and deep ties to their communities in the U.S. I have gone around the country making immigrant communities aware of this new tool to fight the deportation of people who are clearly assets to their communities in the U.S. In Chicago, I formed an informal advisory group to identify cases that should be addressed by the prosecutorial discretion policy, and Family Unity Defense Committees are forming in several other states.
But that policy, as statistics bear out a year after it was announced, has not been used as widely, as fully, and as consistently as it should be used to prevent deportations that are not in the national interest.
Now we have the editorial page of the New York Times saying to the President not only Yes We Can but Yes We Should dial back deportations, especially for immigrant youth.
Last week, nearly 100 law professors wrote a memo to the White House outlining the legal mechanisms by which the President could grant executive relief to DREAMers, hitting back against those in the Obama Administration who have repeatedly said the President lacks the legal authority to grant this type of relief.
Representative Gutierrez will be on our panel at Netroots Nation on Saturday. We’ll be livestreaming the session “Latino Vote Matters: Immigration, Power, and an Interactive Look at the Map” on our blog. He’ll undoubtedly be talking more about this, so be sure to catch him on this topic and more on our live-stream at 10:30 AM, EST, Saturday, June 9th. We’ll keep you posted.