DENVER (AP) — President Barack Obama's surprise announcement last week that his administration would change its deportation policy to become more "humane" shows how the immigration battle has narrowed after months of congressional deadlock.
As recently as last year, immigrant rights activists, along with an unusually broad coalition of business, labor and religious groups, were united in their demand that Congress pass a sweeping bill to both remove the threat of deportation from many of the 11 million people here illegally and eventually make them citizens. But now activists just want to stop deportations.
They have pressured Obama to limit the number of people sent back overseas, which led to his administration's announcement Thursday of a review of deportation policies after a meeting with the Hispanic Congressional Caucus. Activists also are pushing state legislatures to end participation in a program to help federal immigration authorities deport people and chaining themselves across entrances to local jails or immigration detention centers.
"We need relief and we need it soon," said Reyna Montoya, 23, of Phoenix, whose father is fighting deportation and who co-wrote an open letter with dozens of other young activists urging immigrant rights groups to stand down on the citizenship issue. "People who are directly affected just want peace. Later on they'll worry about becoming citizens."
Immigrant rights groups still want to win citizenship for many who are in the U.S. without legal permission. But the shift to deportation relief shows the desperation felt by immigrant communities as deportations have continued, even as the president and many in Congress say they support changing the law to allow some of those people to stay in the U.S.
It also represents the possible splintering of the diverse coalition for an immigration bill that would overhaul the system by expanding citizenship. And the more aggressive, confrontational tactics also raise the risk of a public backlash.