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As Congress Stalls on Immigration Deal, Obama Poised to Deport Two Millionth Immigrant

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In a few weeks, the number of undocumented immigrants deported since President Obama took office will surpass two million — more than any other president. In the time since the Senate passed the immigration reform bill in July, the Department of Homeland Security deported 100,000 people. While Democratic leaders in the House introduced a sweeping new bill proposal this week, the government shutdown and federal debt ceiling have eclipsed the issue of immigration reform. Meanwhile, major protests are planned for Saturday and Tuesday to call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. Dubbed a “National Day for Dignity and Respect,” events are planned Saturday in more than 100 cities nationwide. We speak to Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, the director of Immigration and National Campaigns at the National Council of La Raza.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Obama is about to break a new record. In a few weeks, the number of undocumented immigrants deported since he took office will surpass two million. Even with the partial federal government shutdown, immigration agents are still able to detain, arrest and deport immigrants. This comes as Democratic leaders in the House introduced a sweeping new immigration reform proposal this week. The bill is meant to increase pressure on Republicans to pass comprehensive immigration reform before the end of the year. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced the measure Wednesday with a call to begin debate as soon as possible.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: We waited for the Gang of Eight to be accepted. We graciously deferred to the speaker as to the timing, as to the method, whether it’s one bill, two bills, one at a time, singly, jointly, severally, whatever it is, comprehensive, and we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to go to conference with a good bill that stops the deportations and is a path to citizenship.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, major protests are planned Saturday and this coming Tuesday to call on Congress to pass immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. Dubbed a National Day for Dignity and Respect, events are planned Saturday in more than a hundred cities nationwide, from Los Angeles to Arizona to Georgia.

In a minute we’ll be joined by two immigrants who participated in another protest this week, this one at the Texas-Mexico border in Laredo. They were among 35 people detained as part of a call for the Obama administration to stop deportations. We’ll be speaking a 16-year-old and his father.

But first we go to Washington, D.C., to talk more about the state of immigration reform. We’re joined by Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, the director of Immigration and National Campaigns at the National Council of La Raza.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Juan, you reported in your column today in the New York Daily News this unbelievable milestone: two million people—in a few weeks it will hit that milestone of being deported.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Amazingly, not only two million, but since the Senate passed its version of immigration reform in June, another 100,000 people have been deported from the United States. So every week and month that there’s a delay in getting a comprehensive immigration bill is creating havoc among many immigrant families across the nation.

But I’d like to ask Clarissa De-Castro, how do you see right now—it seems that the steam has come out of the move for immigration reform since—since Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor said that they weren’t going to bring a bill to a vote in the House.

CLARISSA MARTÍNEZ-DE-CASTRO: Well, I think that the interesting thing is that the advocates for immigration reform, I think, often have to keep their nose to the grindstone. We have been hearing that the steam has come off immigration reform since a couple of days after the election, when the conversation started. The reality is that we are not leaving Congress to its own devices. That is why this weekend and next week there’s over—there’s over 160 events in 40 states and the District of Columbia, because we are not just letting Congress figure it out on their own. We want to make sure that the pressure remains steady and escalating, so that they understand that no matter what’s going on in Washington or anywhere else, this topic is going to continue to haunt them until they get it done.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in the House, the Republicans have discussed and—trying to get out different portions of a bill, but not a comprehensive bill. Could you talk about what they have so far done in the House in terms of specific portions of immigration reform?

CLARISSA MARTÍNEZ-DE-CASTRO: Yes. In the House, that—in the House, they have passed five bills so far out of committee. And they can move to the floor with any one of those bills. The thing about getting immigration reform done is that there is different procedural ways in which they can get there. And because that is the case, we, as a coalition of forces, as advocates, have not focused necessarily on the process. We know that if there is a will, leadership can get this done.

In terms of the pieces, out of the Judiciary Committee they have passed a high-tech bill, an agricultural bill, an unSAFE bill—and I’ll get to that in a second—and they have also passed out of the Homeland Security Committee a border security bill, in addition to their work authorization verification bill. So, some of these parts are worse than others. For example, one of them would make the Arizona racial profiling law the law of the land and criminalize undocumented persons. That’s obviously no way forward. Another one would create a bracero program that would keep farmworkers, just as a pair of hands, subject to exploitation. That is not a way forward. But there are some other bills they can put together to try to get to the floor and get to a negotiation with the Senate, even if they don’t take up just one comprehensive bill like the Senate did.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the new border section of the bill, Clarissa?

CLARISSA MARTÍNEZ-DE-CASTRO: So, one of the—one of the potential good news, right, the Democrats introduced their bill. You heard the comments from Ms. Pelosi. And here is—we now—there was a lot of concern. My organization was one of the organizations—many—expressing concern over what we call the “border surge,” an amendment that was added to the Senate bill that was not only wasteful, but excessive, in terms of boots on the ground, in terms of the money that was going to be spent. And a lot of folks, including Republicans, didn’t think that that was really going to be efficient. And so, in the House, where also Republicans and Democrats voiced concern about this—Corker-Hoeven amendment is how the border surge was known—the Democrat proposal, what it does is that it takes the Senate bill, over which there are concerns, as well, but it takes that bill, eliminates that border surge provision and instead adds a border security bill that the House Republicans proposed and was passed out of committee; therefore, it is bipartisan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Clarissa, my understanding, in talking to immigrant rights advocates, is they’re expecting to ramp up a civil disobedience and protest campaign specifically targeting Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor, since they believe that if they will allow a bill to come to a vote in the House, that there are the votes among Republicans and Democrats to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Is it your sense that it’s—really the problem right now is the leadership in the House that is continuing to refuse to move this bill forward?

CLARISSA MARTÍNEZ-DE-CASTRO: Well, in a way, it’s similar to the problem we’re seeing with the shutdown, that we know there are enough Republican members who don’t want to continue to have the government shut down. And so, I think that Republicans—those realistic, pragmatic Republicans that are interested in fulfilling their mandate, which is to govern—need to work with their leadership to come to a solution that doesn’t allow a small minority of the party to continue calling the shots for the rest of the nation, particularly on an issue that there are enough Republicans who support it to get it passed in the House and the vast majority of America supports it.

And the reason why it’s so important is because, as you mentioned at the beginning, inaction is not free of consequences. Every single day, we are seeing, Juan, over 1,000 people being deported, and it has consequences, dire consequences, on those individuals, but it reverberates across our communities, citizens and immigrant alike. And we have to stop that.

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