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Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, a leading voice in the House in the push for immigration reform for years, said Monday that opponents of President Barack Obama’s new executive order, which could suspend deportation for some 5 million immigrants, are trying to scare people into not applying for the relief.
“The fear campaign is just starting,” Gutiérrez said during a press call. “They are trying to keep our immigrants from signing up just like they were trying to keep people from signing up for ObamaCare.”
The Illinois Democrat, who as far back as 2010 has pushed the president – in the absence of congressional action – to use executive powers to give temporary relief from deportation to millions of undocumented immigrants, criticized some Republicans who have in recent days suggested that immigrants should not apply for a benefit they say stems from an act that will not stand court challenges.
"There's going to be fear-mongering from the Republican Party,” Gutiérrez said in the call he held with fellow Democrats Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California.
Gutiérrez said he is now on a mission to spur as many of the estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants who could qualify for the three-year suspension of deportation to apply. He said he will be traveling across the country to spread the word about who qualifies for relief from deportation – a benefit that also allows people to obtain a work permit and often also a driver's license – and to encourage people to submit applications.
“We received a couple of thousand phone calls,” he said of his staff. “They want to know if the president’s action applies to them, their families, their next-door neighbors.”
He added, “We’re telling people to be patient and work with us to learn all the details.”
Menendez, who long has led the effort in the Senate to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, said that the president's executive order, which calls for tighter border enforcement as well as protection from deportation among other things, falls short of what he and Gutiérrez and others had hoped for, but it still “is a game-changer for millions.”
“More families will be able to stay together without fear of deportation,” Menendez said.
He too noted that now supporters of the president’s executive action must put their energy into making sure people sign up, as well as continuing to push for Congress to pass a reform bill that would establish more permanent solutions.
Both Menendez and Gutiérrez stressed that the executive order only temporarily addresses the almost 12 million people who live in the United States illegally. They said that only Congress, by way of immigration reform, can put forth an enduring solution.