July 12 (Bloomberg) -- The Congressional Hispanic Caucus will meet with President Barack Obama later this month, and a leader of the group said he’ll urge Obama to issue work permits to let millions of undocumented immigrants remain in the U.S.
“This is a moment for the president to stand up and say ‘the country believes we should reform our immigration system,’” Representative Luis Gutierrez said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.
Gutierrez, immigration chairman for the 27-member Hispanic caucus, said members plan to meet with Obama the week of July 21 to discuss immigration laws. With prospects for a comprehensive measure stalled, Congress is now considering the president’s $3.7 billion spending proposal to cope with an influx of thousands of unaccompanied children at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Gutierrez said Obama told him in March that if the Republican-led House didn’t act on immigration legislation, he should return to the White House in July to discuss what the president could accomplish instead through executive orders.
He said Obama should begin granting work permits to the millions of undocumented immigrants who would have had a chance to seek legal status under a bill the Democratic-controlled Senate passed last year.
“I think he can begin to do it and I think he can reach that goal,” Gutierrez said. “I hope the president says, ‘This is the beginning.’”
Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, said he opposed a drive in Congress to reduce the legal rights of unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America.
He joined Republicans in critiquing the president’s decision not to visit the border during a fundraising trip to Texas this week. The president should make a visit to the border, he said.
“He should own this. He’s the president of the United States,” Gutierrez said.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the border from Oct. 1 through June 15, about double the total in a similar period a year earlier, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office.
Obama’s funding request to cope with the influx of children is being criticized by Republicans over its spending levels and by members of both parties seeking to more quickly send the children back to their home countries.
Gutierrez said he opposed reducing the legal rights of children fleeing violence including rape and murder. Most of the children are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
A report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that about 60 percent of the children seeking to come to the U.S. are making the journey because they suffered or faced harm that indicated a “need for international protection.”
“So the only thing Barack Obama’s ever going to pass and sign into law, right, is never an immigration reform bill that would bring benefit to our country economically and bring a sense of safety harbor for the undocumented and their families, but a new deportation bill? No,” he said.
Arizona Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake propose treating those children the same as unaccompanied minors from Mexico, who are quickly turned back from the U.S. after an interview by border agents. Some Democrats support the proposal, and it may become the political tradeoff Democrats make to secure funding.
During an earlier news conference, Gutierrez called Republicans seeking to expedite child deportations “petty and mean-spirited.”
Asked during the Bloomberg Television interview whether he sees racism in the dispute, Gutierrez said, “When I see those children, I see my own daughter. I can’t help but see that.”
“I just wonder, don’t you see your children and other children in the same?” he said. “Because that’s really what this is about.”
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