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Advocates tell Obama it’s time to keep promises on immigration reform

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WASHINGTON – Immigration advocacy groups from across the country urged President Barack Obama on Thursday to act swiftly to “end the deportation enforcement machine” that is separating parents from their children.

In separate events, the groups called on Obama to move boldly “and without delay” on actions he first promised to take this summer if Congress failed to act on immigration reform. The president later pushed the deadline back to the end of the year, citing politics.

“The president took a major gamble in delaying executive action until after the election in an effort to save Democratic seats,” said DREAM Act Coalition spokesman Cesar Vargas. “The gamble failed.”

Latino voters “spurned Democrats” in key states like Colorado and Nevada, Vargas said, “either voting independent or staying home because of broken promises the president committed.”

The meetings came just two days after elections that swept Republicans into control of both houses of Congress and numerous governors’ mansions.

Against that backdrop, Obama said Wednesday that he still plans to take whatever actions are within his authority to “improve the functioning of our immigration system.” But he reiterated his “profound preference” that Congress act first on immigration reform.

“Before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can … that will allow us to surge additional resources to the border, where I think the vast majority of Americans have the deepest concern,” he said.

Obama did not provide any further details about actions he might take. But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Thursday warned that any action the president takes on his own would “poison the well” for legislation in this Congress.

“He’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path,” Boehner said. “The American people made it clear on Election Day. They want to get things done, and they don’t want the president acting on a unilateral basis.”

But advocates at a jam-packed Alliance for Citizenship news conference Thursday voiced optimism that the president would do just that.

In a national conference call and a separate news conference at the National Press Club, immigration-rights groups said they want to see Obama expand DACA – the current deferred deportation program for children – to include family members.

“Because for DREAMers, this is not about politics,” said Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream. “This is about our families and people like my dad and my mom.”

Guatemalan national Luis Lopez-Acabal is another parent who fears he could be deported. He is already separated from his family in Mesa, living in a Tempe Church since September to seek sanctuary from deportation. He joined Thursday’s conference call from Tempe, urging Obama to act now.

“I just want to tell the president that we can no longer wait for relief that our families need, because I have seen families like mine being separated,” Lopez-Acabal said.

Advocates have already been waiting longer than they would like, watching as Obama changed the timetable for action from the end of the summer to the end of the year. The delay has left them even more eager for reform and has spurred ramped-up efforts.

“DREAMers all across the country won’t stop organizing and escalating … until the president acts and delivers relief for millions of our community members, including our parents, neighbors, loved ones,” Jimenez said.

“We are here to send a strong message to the president that we won’t take any more excuses,” she said.

That message was delivered Thursday by leaders of religious, labor and pro-immigration organizations.

“The president needs to take action on immigration to support the rights of all of us,” said Rich Trumka, international president of AFL-CIO. “We know that we are stronger when we stand together.”

Every day that action is delayed is another day that individuals and families across the nation live in fear of being deported, the groups said.

“The time for discussion is over. The time for debate is over. The time for delay is over. The time to act is now,” Trumka said.