A couple weeks ago, Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois who has become a perennial thorn on immigration for President Obama, was arrested Tuesday afternoon along with about a dozen activists in a protest outside the White House.
The protesters were arrested peacefully after they sat down on the White House sidewalk, following a rally where demonstrators denounced the Obama administration for deporting more than one million immigrants in the last two years.
In a letter to Mr. Gutierrez on Monday, Mr. Obama rejected his proposal to suspend deportations of illegal immigrant college students with clean criminal records. Last week, Mr. Gutierrez and three other House Democrats had sent a letter to the president requesting the suspensions and also asking him to take executive measures to make it easier for illegal immigrants married to American citizens to remain in the United States.
Mr. Gutierrez said he decided to go ahead with the protest after receiving Mr. Obama’s response. “It didn’t disappoint me as much as I was saddened,” Mr. Gutierrez said in an interview after he paid a $100 fine and was released by the police. He was arrested in May 2010 in a similar protest.
In his letter, Mr. Obama argued that immigration authorities had succeeded in increasing the numbers of convicted criminals among immigrants who are deported, while deporting fewer immigrants who lack legal status but have not been convicted of any crime. In 2010, Mr. Obama wrote, 51 percent of deportees were convicted criminals, while 49 percent had noncriminal violations. Two-thirds of the noncriminal deportees had either committed multiple violations of immigration law (which is generally a civil offense) or had been caught at the border soon after crossing illegally, Mr. Obama wrote.
On Monday, in a speech at a meeting of the N.C.L.R., or National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights organization, the president appealed to Hispanic leaders, including Mr. Gutierrez, to help him pass a broad overhaul of the immigration laws by focusing pressure on Republicans.
“I need you to keep building a movement for change outside of Washington, one that they can’t stop,” said Mr. Obama, referring to Republican lawmakers. While his reception at the Latino gathering was generally enthusiastic, when the president said he could not unilaterally cancel student deportations, groups of students stood up from the audience and chanted, “Yes you can!”
The partisan conflict over immigration policy was on full display on the Hill on Tuesday. At a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing convened by Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, top executives from Microsoft and Nasdaq OMX appealed for more flexible visas for immigrants with technology and science skills, warning that the United States is losing the global competition for talented entrepreneurs who can lift the economy.
But at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing convened by Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, the president of an immigration agents’ union, Chris Crane, delivered scathing criticism of the administration, saying officials are pandering to immigrant groups at the expense of public security. Mr. Crane, president of the union of employees of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said ICE agents broadly rejected recent measures by agency leaders to allow some immigrants to avoid deportation.
“Law enforcement and public safety are no longer a priority at ICE,” Mr. Crane said. “Politics are the priority at ICE.”
Many groups are feeling the pressure that has come from the enforcement policies of the Obama administration. While those within the agency feel there needs to be more strengthening on the law enforcement side, Congressman Gutierrez’s arrest demonstrates how law enforcement is not directed at the right individuals. Comprehensive immigration reform is still necessary to protect and keep those in the U.S. who contribute to our society.