How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

LA immigration activists press Obama to stop deportations

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Waving banners and chanting, more than 150 immigration activists marched through downtown Los Angeles Wednesday demanding President Obama use his executive power to stop deportations.

With immigration talks at a standstill in Congress, activists have intensified pressure on the president to halt forced removals, which are coming up on 2 million since 2008.

"The president can do a lot to stop the suffering of families," said Neidi Dominguez, after marchers reached the federal Metropolitan Detention Center downtown for a rally. 

Dominguez, who represents car washers, said, "the message for today is: President Obama, we want you to stop the deportations as a downpayment. Do this now. You don't need Congress to do this."

President Obama has been fueling speculation about changes to White House deportation policy, since a March 13 meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, during which he said his administration would review immigration laws, and find how to “more humanely” enforce them.

While activists worry the president won't do enough, critics such as Federation for American Immigration Reform said he had already gone too far.

FAIR president Dan Stein in a statement condemned the president's directive as "yet another escalation of his ongoing defiance of U.S. immigration laws and the constitutional limits of his office." Nearly two years ago, the White House angered some conservatives by launching a "deferred action" initiative to extend legal status to qualifying young adults brought to the US as children.

More information on the administration's next steps is expected to come out of a meeting between Hispanic Caucus members and Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson that's been planned for early April, according to U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles.

Becerra was at the caucus' discussion on deportations with Obama. "I believe the president said 'I’m going to do what I can within the confines of the law but it’s very limited and it’s only temporary,'" Becerra said.

Becerra agreed, saying a new White House could reverse any policy Obama implemented.

Becerra said he would like immigration officials to concentrate on deporting criminals. But he maintained the best solution is to get Congress to pass an immigration bill. Democrats on Wednesday deployed a procedural tactic to try to force a vote in the House, where legislation has been stalled since last summer. (There are, however, questions as to whether the "discharge petition" will work.)

Wednesday's march is part of a collective effort by activists nationwide to push Obama on deportations. A contingent from California is visiting the Vatican in hopes that the Pope will ask the president to change enforcement policies when they meet Thursday. The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, whose representatives joined the protest Wednesday, is orchestrating a "day of action" around the country on April 5.

By focusing on the president, activists said they were not easing pressure on Congress, but asking Obama to follow-up on election pledges to push immigration reform.

"He's relied heavily on the Latino vote, the immigrant vote," said Pablo Barrios, an organizer for St. John's Well Child, a health center that serves immigrants in South L.A. "Why can’t he fulfill the promises he gave us when he was running?"

Others groups at the march included Coalition For Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles; Central American Resource Center, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice; Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance; Restaurant Opportunities Center of Los Angeles, and members of AFL-CIO, SEIU and the LA County Federation of Labor.

Aside from advocating for a halt to deportations, some activists have also been calling for an expansion of the "deferred action" program to include other law-abiding immigrants so they can live and work without fear of deportation.

One of the advocates of such a plan — U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill. —  met with Sec. Johnson on Tuesday. He did not divulge details of the conversation but said in a statement, “it is clear that the President is serious about addressing the humanitarian crisis that deportations are causing and the Secretary and I had a very productive and positive conversation.”

This story has been updated.

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