By Mike Lillis - 12/05/13 06:38 PM EST
Liberal House Democrats pounced on President Obama Thursday over his deportation policy, saying he's been too tough on illegal immigrants at the expense of families.
The lawmakers are urging the administration to expand its deferred action program, which allows some youngsters living in the country illegally to remain in the United States temporarily, to adults who don't pose a threat to the country.
Others piled on.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) characterized the president's deportation policy as "unnecessary cruelty." Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) pressed Obama to "send a signal … that, if the Congress won't act, the administration will." And Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) warned of "real damage" to families each day the administration doesn't act.
"The president could do something about it immediately," Holt said. "We are continuing to injure children, so we should take this step now."
The lawmakers were part of a group of 30 House Democrats who endorsed a letter to Obama Thursday calling on the administration to cease its aggressive deportation drive, estimated at 1,100 per day.
Spearheaded by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the letter argues that comprehensive immigration reform, though stalled in Congress, is nonetheless inevitable. With that in mind, they say, Obama should "expand the protections … to the family and neighbors and all of those who have made their lives here but are yet to be fully recognized."
"In the context of the intransigence of a small number of legislators that are willing to hold the legislation hostage unless we pass a series of incredibly extreme proposals," the Democrats wrote, "a cessation of the deportation of the 1,100 potential citizens expelled daily would do a great deal to set the parameters of the conversation."
Signers also include Reps. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas), head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), former head of the Congressional Black Caucus; and John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights icon.
Launched in the summer of 2012 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the deferred action program allows some high-achieving immigrants brought to the United States illegally as kids to stay and work in the country for two years — a concept modeled on the Dream Act legislation that has stalled in Congress.
The move was cheered by immigrant rights advocates as a common-sense step on the road to comprehensive immigration reform. But Republicans denounced the strategy almost universally, accusing Obama of violating the separation of powers.
During a recent immigration speech in San Francisco, Obama was forced to address the issue of expanding the program to adults when a heckler interrupted the president: "You have a power to stop deportation for all undocumented immigrants in this country," shouted Ju Hong, 24, a South Korean immigrant.
"Actually, I don’t," Obama replied. "And that’s why we’re here."
That response hasn't sat well with many Democrats, however, who are wondering why Obama feels he has the power to apply the deferred action program to kids but not adults.
"The president said, 'I enacted the stopping of the deportations of the Dreamers because I [support] the values that I and my wife inculcate in our own daughters,’" Gutiérrez said Thursday. "Well, Mr. President, guess who inculcated those wonderful values you saw in the Dreamers? Their parents.
"It's time to stop deporting the parents of the Dreamers."