Immigrant activists have been arrested outside of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo/Courtesy Lori Montenegro – Telemundo)

Activists arrested after Obama nixes stopping deportations

A day after President Obama told Telemundo’s Jose Díaz-Balart that it was “not an option” for him to halt deportations of undocumented parents, seven immigration activists were arrested in Washington, D.C. after chaining themselves to the White House fence.

One of the arrested today was Tomas Martinez, a member of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR). “The only ‘no’ we’ll accept, is no more deportations,” Martinez said. “The President can’t deny he has the power and the responsibility to stop deportations. We’re being told to wait for reform but waiting is not an option when 1,200 of us are being deported each day?”

In the Telemundo interview yesterday, Obama talked to Díaz-Balart about why he could not expand a halt to deportations beyond Dreamers, saying, “essentially, I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally.”

After the interview was aired,  Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network released a statement.

“The president’s statement is factually inaccurate. He has the power to reduce deportations, the legal authority to expand deferred action, and the political obligation to lead the national debate through bold action. In fact, courageous leadership will only galvanize momentum for reform and focus Congress’s attention on their constitutional duty to modernize immigration law.”

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network had planned the protest at the White House before Obama’s interview with Telemundo, but his reassertion that he would not use his executive powers to stop deportations further riled the protesting immigrants.

“I am tired of seeing so many families separated and the children who cry when they don’t see their father at home and question why their father is not there,” said Rodrigo Guzman, 37, a New York carpenter who was among those arrested.

Guzman and the other six arrested were fined $100 each on charges of failure to obey a lawful order, said Sgt. Paul Brooks of the U.S. Park Police.

All seven of the arrested are not legally in the country and some are already in deportation proceedings, although Guzman is not. Guzman, originally from Mexico City, Mexico, said the activists were prepared to pay fines with $100 each given to them by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

The debate over whether or not the president can and should halt deportations comes at a time when immigration reform advocates are stepping up the pressure on Congress to pass immigration reform legislation, which appears to have stalled.

During the interview last night, Obama was asked by Díaz-Balart whether immigration reform was “dead.”

Obama did not directly answer ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ instead saying “It shouldn’t be,” and adding that there were enough votes in the House in support of immigration and the only thing stopping a vote was that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), had not brought it to the floor.  Yet groups as well as legislators on both sides of the aisle who support reform legislation worry time is running out as Congress is expected to debate the debt ceiling, Syria and other topics.

Boehner’s press secretary, Brendan Buck, shot back in a statement.  “If immigration reform is going to work, it is essential that we have the confidence of the American people that it’s done the right way. That means a deliberate, step-by-step approach, not another massive Obamacare-style bill that people don’t understand.”

But José Parra, spokesman for Senate Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid, said Republicans should “drop the excuses that are just code for obstruct and delay.”

“We’ve been debating immigration for over a decade, it’s time House Republicans do their job.”

In an immigration discussion Tuesday sponsored by the New Democratic Network, Republican immigration reform advocate Tamar Jacoby called talk that immigration reform legislation is dead “undue alarmism.”

“I don’t think anyone decided not to do it,” said Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, which favors immigration reform. “I think they have put it off” to keep from crowding lawmakers’ plates with too many difficult things.

She said Republicans in the House still could string together separate legislation addressing immigration, rather than a comprehensive bill, and then go to conference to iron out differences  with Democrats in the Senate.

Their package could address adult immigrants not legally in the country by allowing them to become citizens through routes that already exist under immigration law. Those are sponsorship by children or employers or marrying a U.S. citizen. She estimated those three routes could provide citizenship to about 7.7 million of the 11 million people not legally in the country.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, which supports legalization for immigrants, said the conventional wisdom is that immigration reform is being “slow walked to death” by Republicans. He insisted the 218 votes needed in the House to pass immigration reform exist.

Sharry said the legalization proposal outlined by Jacoby could be the basis for bipartisan negotiations, as long as it doesn’t include some of the draconian enforcement measures proposed by the House in what is known as the SAFE Act.

But in the end, the issue is where is the House proposal, he said.

“Bring the damn proposal,” Sharry said. “Let’s hear it.”

In the meantime, immigration activists point out that in 2012 alone, the Administration deported over 400,00 undocumented individuals, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement figures, the largest number in the nation’s history.

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