BY ALFONSO CHARDY
Posted Thursday, June 24, 2010 at
Eight Republican senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama this week asking for confirmation that the White House is planning to defer deportations or grant parole to millions of undocumented immigrants, pending congressional debate on immigration reform.
An aide to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told El Nuevo Herald on Wednesday that the White House has not replied to the senators' letter. Moira Mack, a White House spokeswoman, said the administration was not aware of the letter. "We have not yet received the letter,'' said Mack in an e-mail message. "We will review it upon receipt.'' She did not answer whether Obama was contemplating such a plan.
The senators' query is confirmation of widespread rumors swirling in recent weeks in the U.S. capital that Obama could be planning a surprise executive action to prohibit the continuing deportations of undocumented immigrants who have no criminal convictions.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have been saying for months that their priority is detention and deportation of foreign nationals who have been convicted of crimes in the United States. But officials have also said they are still detaining and removing non-criminal undocumented immigrants, though these are now described as "low priority.''
Figures released by ICE last week for the Oct. 1-June 7 period indicate a downward trend in the number of deportations of non-criminal undocumented immigrants compared to removals during fiscal years 2008 and 2009. But immigrant-rights advocates expressed skepticism about the statistics and blamed Congress for the lack of immigration reform.
"The senators acknowledge that immigration laws need to be fixed,'' said Cheryl Little, executive director of Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, referring to the senators' letter to Obama. "Yet it is Congress that clearly has failed to approve desperately needed comprehensive immigration reforms, reforms that these very senators have blocked.
''Immigrants were cautiously optimistic about a possible deferral of deportations, but they were not overly enthusiastic since their hopes for legalization have been dashed repeatedly before.
"If it happens, it would be good because it would lessen the fears that now exist in the community,'' said Alberto Pérez, a 26-year-old Guatemalan landscaper who was watching the U.S.-Algeria World Cup soccer match at a WeCount! Community Worker Center in South Miami-Dade on Wednesday.
Neither Obama nor any of his principal immigration advisors have made any public reference to suspending removals of non-criminal undocumented immigrants. But many immigration advocates have been urging Obama to take executive action to defer deportation in light of congressional reluctance to deal with immigration reform which could lead to legalization.
Nora Sándigo, executive director of American Fraternity, is planning a July 28 demonstration by U.S.-born children of undocumented parents in front of the White House to demand an end to deportations of undocumented immigrants who have no criminal records.
The letter to Obama was signed by Grassley and seven other Republican senators: Orrin Hatch of Utah, Jim Bunning of Kentucky, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and David Vitter of Louisiana.
"We understand that there's a push for your administration to develop a plan to unilaterally extend either deferred action or parole to millions of illegal aliens in the United States,'' the letter reads. ``While deferred action and parole are Executive Branch authorities, they should not be used to circumvent Congress' constitutional authority to legislate immigration policy, particularly as it relates to the illegal population in the United States.''