Just hours before President Barack Obama's scheduled announcement on immigration reform, progressive advocacy groups representing millions of Americans delivered more than 260,000 petitions to the White House, urging Obama to take bold action by expanding deferred action to immigrants who would have qualified for legalization under a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
"Republicans had their chance to pass immigration reform, and they squandered it," declared Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, which works for full labor, civil and political rights for immigrants and their families. "Now, it’s time for the President to follow through on his promise and deliver bold executive action that lets millions of immigrants who have established deep ties to America live freely, work legally, and make a bigger contribution to our tax base and economy. It’s not only smart from a policy perspective, but it’s the right thing to do from a moral perspective. And the President would be wise to take it up quickly."
Labor groups also took part in Thursday's action. "Workers need relief," said Kelly Fay Rodríguez of the AFL-CIO. "The President can improve the lives of all working people by granting work authorization to all those who should be on a pathway to citizenship now and ensuring that no worker faces the threat of deportation for exercising her rights on the job."
Republicans on Thursday vowed a swift and forceful response to the anticipated executive action, accusing the president of exceeding the power of his office and promising a legislative fight when they take full control of Congress next year.
"It’s time for the President to follow through on his promise and deliver bold executive action that lets millions of immigrants who have established deep ties to America live freely, work legally, and make a bigger contribution to our tax base and economy."
—Frank Sharry, America's Voice
"If President Obama acts in defiance of the people and imposes his will on the country, Congress will act," Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who will become majority leader in January, said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday morning. "We’re considering a variety of options. But make no mistake. Make no mistake. When the newly elected representatives of the people take their seats, they will act."
But immigration activists remained undeterred by political machinations.
"We have given this country the sweat of our brow and the strength of our labor—the least it can do is remove the fear that we'll be taken from the communities we've built," said Carlos Castillo, president of Washington, D.C.'s Trabajadores Unidos and a member of National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "The distance the president must address is not between Republican[s] and Democrat[s], it's between the courage undocumented immigrants have shown to put this issue in the national agenda and the cowardice of politicians who continue to squander it. We expect the president to do what is in his power as we've already done everything in ours."
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In fact, some said the president's plan—uncorroborated details of which have been leaked to the press—doesn't go far enough.
"The President needs to be bold and courageous and offer a solution that can stop the separation of our families in a real way," said Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente, a national Latino online organization. "Unfortunately rumors of an order for 5 million would not even deal with half of the problem. Republicans will not show any mercy if it's a full or half-a-loaf solution. The President has a historic opportunity to issue a broad and inclusive executive order that begins to protect the 11 million undocumented immigrants and heal the relationship with Latinos."
Labor and immigration rights activist David Bacon, author of several books on immigration including The Right to Stay Home and Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants cautioned against placing too much value on whatever relief Obama proposes.
"The administration is imposing increasing enforcement and labor programs as a price for deportation relief," he pointed out. "The U.S. already spends more money on immigration enforcement than all other federal law enforcement programs combined. Giving Silicon Valley more work visas and tying labor programs to deportation relief is a step towards lower wages, undermining the rights of all workers. At the same time, the administration has announced support for more free trade deals, like the Trans Pacific Partnership, which will lead to more displacement and migration, while eliminating jobs here at home. Instead of a stopgap measure, we must change U.S. immigration law and trade policy to deal with the basic causes of migration, and to guarantee the human, civil and labor rights of migrants and all working people."
In advance of the president's announcement, United We Dream—the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation—released this video, vowing to continue applying pressure until "all of our community is protected":