DENVER — Immigration reform supporters gathered at the First Unitarian Church here on Thursday in the wake of an election in which Republican victories piled up across the country, leaving many immigration policy watchers glum about prospects for reform in the coming years. Fierce advocate for reform Boulder Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat who won re-election Tuesday, joined with the crowd in calling on President Obama to take executive action to reduce deportations.
Ron Ruggiero, president of Service Employees International Union Local 105, said Obama has a “moral imperative” to act immediately.
“Every day last year, 1,200 aspiring Americans were deported,” he said.
Arturo Armando Hernandez Garcia has been fighting deportation in court for years. He has taken sanctuary at the church for the last 17 days awaiting the government’s response to his final request that an immigration court reconsider his case.
“I’ve been living here in Colorado for the last 15 years. I’ve been married for 16 years. I have a 15-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old daughter,” said Garcia. “They say the suffering and hardship of my family is not extreme enough for me to have relief.”
Garcia’s undocumented status was initially brought to law enforcement’s attention back in 2010 after a colleague told the police that Garcia had threatened him during an argument. Garcia was arrested and held for 30 days. Although he was cleared of all charges, the incident brought him to the attention of immigration authorities who placed a hold on his release from jail. Five years later, his family is struggling to pay mounting legal costs and Garcia is on the verge of deportation.
“I’m here today to ask President Obama to do something now to help the thousands of families who are in my same situation,” he said.
Polis said Garcia was not the kind of person deportation authorities should be hounding.
“If there are 11 million people here, there are inadequate resources to deport everybody,” he said. “We urge Obama to focus our limited immigration enforcement resources on those people who are criminal, truly dangerous and pose a threat to national security or to our communities.”
Polis called on the president to take action that is “as big and as bold” as possible — to issue the kind of order that would redraw immigration enforcement guidelines to focus deportation proceedings on undocumented violent offenders and make it possible for those who have received DACA status to enroll in the military.
He called on Republicans to stop blocking reform in Congress, saying that the bi-partisan bill approved by the Senate should be taken up. He said the bill aims to secure the borders, put in place greater workplace enforcement requirements, adjust the future flow of new immigrants to meet the nation’s economic needs, create 200,000 jobs for Americans and reduce the federal deficit by about $300 billion over the next ten years.
Polis has been an advocate of comprehensive immigration reform on Capitol Hill from the moment he took office in 2009, making headlines for impassioned House floor speeches in which he vents widely shared frustrations.
On Thursday, Polis directed his ire beyond the universe of Republican lawmakers. He called out the president for delaying executive action on deportations until after the election, a political move motivated by fear of hurting Democrats at the polls.
“We saw how well that worked out,” Polis quipped. “Some of us believe that delaying relief for hundreds of thousands of families, relief that has overwhelming popular support, may well have had the opposite effect, dampening voter enthusiasm all over the country.”
In conversation with The Colorado Independent, Polis doubled down on that assertion, saying that the vast majority of Americans side with Democrats when it comes to immigration reform and that the issue was under-represented in many, though not all, campaigns.
“I certainly talked about immigration reform every chance I got and I was able to win a substantial victory, more than I did two years ago,” he said.