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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Activists Pressure White House to Prevent ‘Deportation Cliff’

By Fawn Johnson
December 16, 2012

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., likes to talk about the “deportation cliff” to constituents and activists. He is referring to the illegal immigrants who will be deported between now and the theoretical date when sweeping immigration reforms are enacted. If that happens—and that’s a big “if”—immigrants who have done nothing wrong other than to live in the country without papers will have a chance to stay and earn legal status.

Gutierrez wants President Obama to ease up on these people now by expanding the administration’s deferred deportation policy for undocumented youth, the “dreamers.”

Politically, Gutierrez is being a rabble-rouser. He is making sure the White House will continue to feel pressure to change its deportation policy even before any immigration debate begins next year. Immigration-reform advocates are encouraged by Obama’s newfound commitment to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but they are also wary that the administration’s interest will be short-lived. Immigration is tough stuff, as any veteran of the 2007 debate will tell you. And until recently, the only immigration policy emanating from the administration was the highest deportation rate in history.  “We don’t want politicians to simply sit around,” Gutierrez said in an interview. “Once [deportees] are gone, it becomes next to impossible to reintegrate their families.”

This is the same guy who got himself arrested in front of the White House last summer in protest of Obama’s deportation policy. Obama wasn’t pleased with the stunt, but Gutierrez said he had already played nice for months after the president had promised members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that he would support them on immigration. Nothing happened, even after the caucus requested a series of administrative actions that would “provide relief to unauthorized individuals whose circumstances are determined to be worthy or compelling enough,” according to a private memo sent to the White House.

Specifically, the caucus asked Obama in February 2011 to give undocumented youths “parole-in-place” protection from deportation and work authorization. Obama finally acquiesced in June this year, but only after he faced steep pressure from religious leaders, several news articles about teens facing deportation, and threats from the Hispanic Caucus to ask for the resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The caucus’s memo asked for similar deferred deportation for undocumented parents of dreamers and those with U.S. citizen children, but it has yet to be granted.

Immigration activists are demonstrating an unusual amount of impatience toward a president who since October has said repeatedly that immigration reform is at the very top of his agenda once the fiscal-cliff crisis is resolved. The level of trust in the White House and congressional Democrats ranges from cautiously optimistic to cynically removed. Some activists have staged sit-ins in the offices of their biggest allies, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Gutierrez. Others are working every legal and political angle available on behalf of individuals in deportation proceedings.

“I am happy and delighted to see the new interest,” Gutierrez said of the preparations in Congress for immigration legislation. “I also understand—if history is any indicator of how movements for civil rights get done—it is always with broader participation from groups outside the executive.”

Dreamers and other immigration advocates are stepping up their campaigns to highlight deportations. It puts a human face on the problem that seems to be taking root beyond the Hispanic community. The United We Dream network is seeking an expanded deferred-deportation policy as part of its platform for 2013. Last week, dozens of children convened on Capitol Hill, delivering 10,000 letters begging Congress not to let their parents be deported. Immigrant advocacy organizations say that half of the people deported in the past three years haven’t been violent criminals. Napolitano said last week on PBS News Hour that 90 percent of the deportees in the last two years had “criminal violations” or were “repeat violators” caught along the border several times. The agency has a relatively new policy of formally deporting “revolving-door” border crossers. (Some detention centers have an immigration judge on site.) In the past, illegal border crossers were bused back with the equivalent of a parking ticket.

Napolitano can expect criticism from these activists. Civil-rights groups last week called on the administration to halt a program deputizing local police officers to conduct immigration enforcement. Her role in the debate will likely focus on the practical impact of the policies being weighed.

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