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US Lawmakers, Religious Leaders Urge Obama to Act on Immigration

Demonstrators are lined up outside the White House in Washington, Aug. 28, 2014, as they are being arrested during a protest on immigration reform.
Demonstrators are lined up outside the White House in Washington, Aug. 28, 2014, as they are being arrested during a protest on immigration reform.
Cindy Saine

Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez and several U.S. religious leaders are calling on President Barack Obama to take executive actions soon to fix the U.S. immigration system, after Congress failed to pass comprehensive reform legislation. 

Other Democratic lawmakers in tough re-election races, however, have asked the president to delay any executive action on immigration until after the November midterm elections, frustrating immigrants' rights activists.  

Obama and some of his senior advisers are now said to be engaged in an internal debate about when to move on executive action on deportations and how to deal with the influx of children from Central America at the U.S. southern border.

The president had said in June that he would announce executive actions by the end of the summer, but now the White House says the decision could come later.  One of the leading advocates for immigrants' rights in Congress, Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez, is calling on Obama to "stand up for what he believes in."

"Because it is better the president make the decision now, clearly before the American public, in a transparent manner, before the election," he said.

Gutierrez called on Democrats who are reportedly asking for a delay to not block action on the issue, saying Democrats cannot stand with immigrants only when it is politically expedient. 

Clarissa Martinez de Castro of the National Council of La Raza agrees.

"We are deeply disappointed to hear that some may be advocating for a delay in the president moving forward with his long-awaited announcement on executive action on immigration," she said.

The U.S. Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation more than a year ago, but the House of Representatives failed to hold a vote on broad reforms.  In July, the House instead passed a bill that focused on boosting border security.  

A group of religious leaders has written the president to ask him to ensure that the rights of children are not lost in the broad political debate on immigration.  One of them, Sister Simone Campbell of the Catholic group Network, has been working to help unaccompanied children at the border. She said she is disappointed in the House vote.

"They took the approach of rolling back protections for those who are the most vulnerable.  That is not who we are as a nation," Campbell said.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Republican Buck McKeon said a 2008 law to protect children from human trafficking needs to be revised, because the measure is motivating Central American children to risk their lives to come to the United States.

"The problem is a refugee problem down at the border right now.  And the president, a couple of weeks ago told us that he would support changing that 2008 law, and now they are against it, so he changed his mind," he said.

Experts say it is unclear exactly what type of reforms the president may enact, ranging from increasing the number of green cards offered, which allow foreigners to live and work in the United States, to deferring deportations for undocumented immigrants. 

Any executive actions the president takes could be reversed by Congress. 

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