Wednesday, June 12, 2013 | 4:32 p.m.
As the Senate debates a comprehensive immigration reform bill, the House of Representatives is fighting a partisan battle over President Barack Obama’s stopgap measure, a program to defer deportations for young undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children.
Last week, a group of House Republicans voted to defund the deferred action program. This week, a group of Democratic House lawmakers, including Nevada’s Rep. Dina Titus, are calling on the president to expand it to all undocumented immigrants.
“We want not just to have those wonderful students, the Dreamers; we want their mommies and daddies,” Titus said Wednesday at a rally for undocumented immigrants in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. “So, Mr. President, open up that program and let our families stay here so they can contribute to our community, our society and the betterment of this country.”
Titus was one of only a handful of lawmakers, led by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who stood shoulder to shoulder with undocumented immigrants in the Capitol yesterday and urged the president to make good on what they recalled as a promise not to deport undocumented immigrants who had committed no other crime than coming to this country.
“Last year, President Obama said deportation would stop for people that didn’t commit any crime,” Jesusa Rodriguez said through a translator. “If he promised that he was going to stop separations, why do deportations continue?”
Family reunification has been one of the central causes for which advocates of immigration reform, and especially a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, have been calling for Obama to be more lenient with undocumented immigrants while Congress works through an immigration bill.
Under Obama, the Department of Homeland Security has deported more immigrants than it did under President George W. Bush.
Titus spoke about the case of Martin Martinez, profiled in the Las Vegas Sun this spring, as an undocumented immigrant who was able to receive a stay of deportation, through Titus’ intervention. But it took 15 days of effort, Titus said.
“This is just one story, and it’s a successful one,” Titus said. “But in the meantime ... we shouldn’t be sending back the very same people we’re trying to help and keep in this country through immigration reform.”
Some of Titus’ colleagues who appeared at Wednesday’s rally went a step further: Gutierrez criticized the Senate bill for not recognizing a “right of return” for all undocumented immigrants who had been deported in recent years.
Under the Senate bill, immigrants who were deported before the end of 2011 but have a spouse or child who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident can petition to come back to the U.S. and apply for provisional status.
Gutierrez said he would like to see the same opportunity extended to all deported immigrants, regardless of whether they had a relative with citizen or permanent resident status able to petition for them.
“You cannot heal a broken community of devastated families unless people have the right to return,” Gutierrez said. “I think it is important that that right of return extend to a husband wanting their wife back or wife wanting their husband back and the children to be able to return.”
Gutierrez is a member of a bipartisan ad hoc group in the House that has been working on an immigration bill for the past several months but has yet to release a draft.
The House group was expected to release its compromise bill earlier this month, but talks hit a snag and the group lost one of its Republican members, Rep. Raul Labrador, over a disagreement about health benefits for undocumented immigrants.
Titus said Wednesday that her sense from Gutierrez was that the House was still “a few weeks” away from proposing their bill — a timeline that would mean the House wouldn’t weigh in with its version of immigration reform until the Senate had likely completed its business.
But Titus is remaining upbeat about the prospects of a comprehensive immigration bill passing the House — and getting her optimism from, of all places, the House’s recent 224 to 201 vote to deep-six the deferred deportation program.
“When the other side is saying don’t fund anything, don’t do deferred action, this is a good statement to say, ‘We’ve got to do it,’” Titus said shortly after the rally. “But one thing to remember about that vote is that it was very close. So that gives us hope, to think that if we keep that momentum going, we can get something accomplished.”