U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D, IL-4) and immigrant rights activists on Monday blasted President Barack Obama’s decision to delay executive action on immigration reform until after the November elections.
Gutierrez accused Obama and his administration of “playing it safe.”
“Playing it safe means that ‘We’re going to abandon our values and abandon a community that we said we were going to support and defend,’” he said during a press conference Monday morning at Casa Michoacan in the city’s Pilsen neighborhood.
“Playing it safe, maybe it wins elections, maybe it loses elections, but playing it safe rarely leads to fairness, rarely leads to justice and almost never leads to good public policy which you can be proud of,” Gutierrez said.
Back in June, the president said he would single-handedly move forward with immigration reform by the end of the summer since the Republican-controlled U.S. House continues to stall on addressing sweeping legislation.
But considering the risk of losing Democratic control of the Senate during the November midterm elections—Republicans need to gain just six seats in order to get control of the higher chamber—the president announced on Saturday that executive action on immigration reform would have to wait. He promised to act before the end of the calendar year.
“Everybody in Washington D.C. knows this has everything to do with politics,” Gutierrez said. “Partisan politics were put ahead of good public policy.”
The Obama administration cites the need for a “sustainable” plan as a reason for the delay, saying executive action needs to eventually evolve into comprehensive immigration reform.
“Because of the Republicans’ extreme politicization of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections,” a White House official told the New York Times. “Because he wants to do this in a way that’s sustainable, the president will take action on immigration before the end of the year.”
The president’s executive action could provide work permits and protection from deportations for millions living in the country illegally. He instructed the of Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to research and report recommendations on steps he can take regarding immigration reform without approval from Congress.
June 27 marked the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Senate’s passage of a bipartisan bill that would provide a streamlined path to citizenship for America’s more than 11 million undocumented immigrants. In October, House Democrats introduced a nearly identical bill. But Republican House leaders, who previously rebuffed the Senate’s bill, have not acted on either piece of legislation.
In the wake of Saturday’s announcement and yet another delay, activists on Monday said both Republicans and Democrats need to earn the immigrant vote and vowed to challenge candidates on both sides of the aisle over support for immigration reform.
“Our vote should not be taken for granted,” said Rosi Carrasco, a member of the Latino Organization of the Southwest.
Click through for more from Monday’s press conference.
A number of Democratic senators from southern states, including U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, reportedly urged Obama to delay executive action because the move could cost them a victory in the election.
Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said members of the immigrant community and their supporters “feel betrayed.”
“Your delay of a few weeks may not seem like much to you, or a few set of Democrats, or some politicians in D.C. But it means everything to a child who will lose his or her parent,” he said in a message to Obama. “Another 68,000 families will be separated by November 4.”
Gutierrez said the delay could make pro-immigration reform politicians in Illinois, many of which rely on the immigrant vote — such as U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D, IL-10) — vulnerable in the upcomming election.
“I believe you take action and let the public vote on the actions that you took. When you don’t do that, you create even more cynicism about the political system,” he said.
But, Gutierrez added that he has faith Obama will follow through with the plan before the end of the year.
“People are waiting, and they have to wait longer, and I’m saddened and disappointed by that,” Gutierrez said. “But I’m not going to give up on President Obama, I’m not going to give up on this administration and I am not going to give up on our immigrant community.”