Several leading Latino civil rights groups delivered a petition with nearly 10,000 signatures to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Thursday demanding that the lawmakers be bolder in fighting for immigration reform.
In a statement about the petitions, the coalition depicted the Caucus, whose members are Democrats, as hesitant to take a strong stand on the need for immigration reform and on denouncing the record number of deportations that have occurred under the Obama administration.
“In the face one of the most devastating periods for Latino and other immigrants in U.S. history,” the statement said, “thousands of community members and numerous Latino community leaders from across the nation are delivering a message to Congressman Ruben Hinojosa [the caucus chair] and the leadership of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus: lead or get out of the way.”
The coalition includes Presente.org, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Promise Arizona, CASA Maryland, and Voces de la Frontera.
Hinojosa rejected the criticism, responding that the caucus has pushed for congressional action on an overhaul of the immigration laws. He said it was up to Republicans in the House to move the ball forward on the issue.
"The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has always been at the forefront of the comprehensive immigration reform debate and has long pushed for fixing our nation's broken immigration system," Hinojosa said.
"CHC members have been and continue to be some of Comprehensive Immigration Reform's strongest champions, fighting for reform up front and behind the scenes. Right now more than ever, what we need is House Republican Leadership to step up to the plate and allow a vote on this critical issue."
Frustration has been mounting among advocates of more flexible immigration policies over the stalled effort in the House of Representatives to vote on a measure.
Republicans in the House, where they have the majority, have resisted bills that would extend a path to legal status to undocumented immigrants.
The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform measure in June that, among other things, tightens security along the border, steps up interior enforcement, expands foreign worker visas and provides opportunities for undocumented immigrants who meet a strict set of criteria to legalize their status.
The coalition of immigrant advocacy groups, led by Presente, noted that some Latino lawmakers have taken a lead role in pushing for an end to the record deportations and a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
They said that Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois, and Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, had been vocal, visible and assertive in fighting for immigration reform.
“When eight Congressmen stepped forward to be arrested for immigration reform – including civil rights legend Congressman John L. Lewis – the only CHC members to join him were Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Raul Grijalva,” the statement said. “Four African American Congressmen were arrested fighting for immigration reform, and only two Latinos. Such a situation begs an important question: where was the rest of the Hispanic Caucus?”
The coalition’s move came on the same day that Grijalva and Gutierrez held a press conference in Washington D.C. calling on Obama to stop the deportations – which have numbered early 2 million, or more than 1,000 a day, since he’s been in office – and to provide a way for undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status.
Gutierrez and Grijalva said that 30 Democratic members of Congress had signed a letter to Obama telling him that he has the power to stop the record deportations.
"In fact, taking a strong step toward granting relief would move us in the direction of where the immigration debate rightfully should start, with the legalization of eleven million men and women who call the United States their home," the letter said, according to published reports.
Also on Thursday, a coalition of evangelical Christian churches announced that they would be running radio ads this month asking for prayers for House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio who holds sway over the handling of immigration reform measures in the chamber.
In a briefing with reporters, Boehner said that he was committed to working on immigration reform, but in a piecemeal fashion, not in a sweeping bill. Asked if a bill would come to a vote in 2014, Boehner said he would not make predictions on a time frame.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente