After Backlash, Congressional Hispanic Caucus To Hit Obama Harder On Deportations

The CHC drafted a resolution opposing deportations -- but after it leaked and got criticized as too soft, the caucus has toughened it.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) has strengthened language pertaining to deportations in a resolution it plans to release Thursday, and will now call for President Obama to suspend deportations of those who would be covered by the bipartisan Senate immigration bill in addition to expanding deferred action, sources tell BuzzFeed.

As first reported by BuzzFeed, details of the original draft, circulated by Rep. Luis Gutierrez at the CHC meeting last week, were panned by activists for being too mild in its demands of the president. The new language hews closer to comments made by Senator Chuck Schumer last week.

The new language presented at the immigration task force meeting Wednesday asks the president not to deport anyone who would qualify for Senate Bill 744 -- the immigration bill -- and explicitly mentions expanding deferred action where the first one only hinted at using prosecutorial discretion to slow deportations, a source with knowledge of the updated resolution said.

The idea is that Republicans like Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham voted to make these undocumented immigrants eventual citizens. "People who they're saying should be citizens tomorrow, should not be deported today," the source said.

In private meetings, some in the CHC believed the previous letter was "assassinated" before it was even released, but activists now say they are heartened by the changes.

"They were responsive, Luis Gutierrez and the CHC have been great," said Cesar Vargas, co-director of the DREAM Action Coalition and National Activists for the DREAM Act, in a marked change from his comments in response to the initial draft.

Vargas said he's been talking with CHC staff and exchanging emails with them speaking about ways to strengthen the resolution. "From our perspective we wanted to be preemptive, we know what to expect from Republicans, but at least from our allies we want them to work with us."

CHC members were not available for comment at the time of publication.

Lorella Praeli, director of advocacy and policy at the immigration organization United We Dream, and an activist who was calling for pressure on all Democratic leaders but particularly Latinos in the CHC to take a stand against deportations, said the new language falls in line with what her organization wants to accomplish.

"The goal of United We Dream is to bring down deportations and increase the number of people with legal status," she said. "We can achieve that in multiple ways, by extending administrative relief to them and by giving deferred action to these people."

A split between Democrats and allies for immigration reform had long simmered, before exploding into the public eye on the issue of whether to focus on pressuring the president or House Republicans. For many, the idea that reform could be massaged through the House meant hands off the president. "But for those of us who looked at the House, and knew there's no fucking way a good bill is going to get through, we decided we would have to start playing hardball with the president to put pressure on the House to act," the source with knowledge of the resolution said.

Chris Newman, the legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said at some point it's counterproductive for Democrats to worry about what House Republicans will think about administrative solutions.

"There's something ludicrous about allowing birthers to challenge the president's deportation policy," he said. "House Republicans were the ones accusing the president of being an undocumented immigrant himself."

The resolution comes a day after Gutierrez took to the House floor to assail Republicans for the ENFORCE Act, H.R. 4138, which would allow the House GOP to sue the president if they feel he has failed to enforce the law. A failure to enforce immigration law was cited by Majority Leader Eric Cantor as a rationale for the legislation.

The original CHC draft resolution, obtained by BuzzFeed, calls on the president "to act immediately to address this moral crisis harming American families and communities," but does not mention the Senate bill or directly call for expanding deferred action.

Both Vargas and Praelli said they will continue to push for how high-priority criminals are classified. At the moment, someone who has immigration violations is classified as a high-priority target for removal from the country, which the advocates say makes no sense because undocumented immigrants obviously have a prior immigration history.

Praelli said the changes to the resolution show the CHC "understands that they play a critical role in advancing this issue and that they represent a fair share of Latinos."

In language that presumably won't be changed, the original draft includes this idea as well.

"The brunt of escalating deportations and family separations are taking place in Latino communities, many of which are represented in Congress by Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus," it reads.

Praelli said this change shows the power the community can wield.

"Our community is not afraid to hold anyone accountable, we're loyal first and foremost to our people," she said.

"We're not afraid to push for what we need and what we deserve. The people in D.C. play an important role, but the people framing and leading this debate are the community that is affected by it and now D.C. is catching up with them."