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Immigration Executive Action Update: Immigration Debate Is 'Our Selma' and Latest Civil Rights Movement, Says Rep. Luis Gutierrez

First Posted: Jan 17, 2015 10:44 AM EST
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Listen to Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Sen. Bob Menendez press conference

on immigration executive action from Jan. 16, in New Jersey:

For Rep. Luis Gutierrez's, D-Ill., the ongoing immigration debate is the civil rights movement of the modern era. To engage the immigration debate, he's traveling to several states nationwide to further inform people about President Barack Obama's immigration executive actions. On Friday night, Gutierrez's latest stop was in New Jersey.

Gutierrez held a press conference with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., from the Comunidad Cristiana church in Elizabeth. The lawmakers reiterated their support of Obama's immigration executive action and the House Republicans efforts to block the deferred action programs from existing.

"This is the civil rights movement of our time," said Gutierrez. "This is our Selma and we will walk, we will march, we will be arrested, we will do anything and everything it takes to make sure families are protected in this nation."

"This is our opportunity," added Gutierrez, noting the Republican Party's response to the broken immigration system is "to criminalize and demonize people who only want to work and see a better future for themselves."

The representative from Illinois said undocumented immigrants want the opportunity to work and provide basic necessities for loved ones.

Obama's executive actions, which he announced on Nov. 20, could defer deportation for nearly 4.9 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S., specifically before Jan. 1, 2010, and pending a criminal background check and payment of fines and taxes. Obama's executive action expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for applicants to seek a renewable three-year stay instead of two years. Parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who have been in the country since Jan. 1, 2010, can request deferred action and employment authorization for three years as part of the new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program. 

Gutierrez recalled when members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus would meet with Obama, and the persistent lawmaker to "to tell him (Obama) something he does not want to hear, something he does not agree with, something that makes him incredibly uncomfortable" has been Menendez.

Menendez acknowledged the difficulty of sitting in the White House and seeing Obama, which he recognized as "the most powerful figure in the world," yet telling the president he needs to do something on immigration, namely through executive actions. The senator said the executive actions were necessary because of the Republicans in the House of Representatives. He mentioned the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation that passed the Senate in June 2013, which garnered 67 senators in favor of the bill, an aspect Menendez said would never happen on critical issues.

"We went to the president and said 'You can't let millions of people continue to languish and you have powers, powers that we are asking you to use,'" said Menendez, noting Obama received other advice such as his legal counsel, but the move to act on immigration through executive action was part of a "compelling, moral, ethical and economic argument that this is in the national interest of the United States, and it is the right thing to do."

Menendez said Obama does not have the powers to grant relief for everybody, but what the president has done will still provide opportunities for undocumented immigrants.

In regards to Republican-led legislation to undo Obama's immigration executive action, which would halt funding for deferred action programs, Menendez said the bill will be fought in the Senate, but ultimately Obama has the authority to veto such bills.

Despite the obstacles in Washington, D.C., Menendez called for undocumented immigrants to prepare their documents to apply for the deferred action programs and to do so without fear.

A woman's voice was briefly heard during the press conference questioning concerns about undocumented immigrants without a family, which may void such individuals to apply for DAPA. Despite being vocal, her questions were not answered, and Gutierrez continued his speech without hesitation. Members of the media were not given an immediate opportunity to ask questions as attendees were moved to the rally event.

The rally was held to further explain Obama's executive actions with immigrants and New Jersey residents in attendance. Menendez and Gutierrez addressed attendees and urged people to not have fear and maintain patience for compressive immigration reform. A select group of undocumented immigrants spoke of their personal experiences, some successfully applied for DACA and others were parents eligible for DAPA. The undocumented immigrants commented about potential education and work opportunities as a result of Obama's executive actions, with some individuals reduced to tears from listening to the struggles and futures each immigrant detailed.

As Latin Post reported, House Republicans introduced amendments to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's funding bill that would ease or stop Obama's immigration executive actions. The U.S. Senate will soon vote on the House bill. The Obama administration has already threatened to veto legislation that would negatively impact his executive actions. 

Gutierrez's immigration tour continues on Jan. 24 in Racine, Wisconsin, and future visits include California, Florida, North Carolina and Texas. According to Gutierrez's office, additional tour dates will be added with hopes to add Arizona, Colorado and Nevada.

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For the latest updates, follow Latin Post's Michael Oleaga on Twitter: @EditorMikeO or contact via email: m.oleaga@latinpost.com.

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