Immigration advocates ready for executive action

People rally for comprehensive immigration reform on Nov. 7, 2014, outside the White House in Washington DC. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
People rally for comprehensive immigration reform on Nov. 7, 2014, outside the White House in Washington DC.

Immigration groups and advocates are holding their collective breath in anticipation of relief for millions of undocumented immigrants. 

Burned before by the president’s promise of action -- which was put off until after the midterm elections -- the advocates in Obama's corner on immigration say they will not let up on the White House. 

"It certainly seems like there’s a lot of energy in the air," said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of the advocacy group America’s Voice. “They really can’t afford a broken promise or another setback or another disappointment. We need something that the immigrant community can be proud of."

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The Obama administration is expected to take unilateral action by allowing parents of U.S.-born children and immigrants with high technology skills to remain in the United States. Modeled after a similar executive action that protected DREAMers — young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children — from threats of deportation, Obama’s new action could shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants who currently live in the U.S.

But with Republicans threatening a government shutdown if Obama acts unilaterally, immigration advocates are working to set the proverbial record straight on the legality of the president's expected action.

“It's not going to be illegal, and it’s not amnesty,” said Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress. "I think it will be seen as the president acting and, finally, someone showing leadership on this issue. Once he takes these steps forward, there’s going to be a lot of support around the country from progressives."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and several top Senate Democrats, for their part, offered their full support of the president, writing in a letter Monday that it was within the president’s powers to circumvent Congress to curb deportations.

"Because House Republicans have not acted, we fully support your decision to use your well-established executive authority to improve as much of the immigration system as you can," the senators wrote. "Some Republicans are claiming that you do not have the authority to act, but we know that you, like previous presidents, have broad executive authority to shape the enforcement and implementation of immigration laws.”

RELATED: Bracing for executive action

A group of several dozen House Republicans — led by Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon — has signed onto efforts to tie funding for the administration’s implementation of future executive actions to an upcoming spending bill. So, Congress needs to extend funding by Dec. 11 in order to avoid another potential government shutdown.

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who will take over as Senate majority leader in the next session, has made clear he will not entertain the prospect of another shutdown, while House Speaker John Boehner has left the door open.

Though it remains unclear exactly how broad in scope the president’s action will be, it will be largely up to advocates and immigration groups to spread the word so that people who qualify for the extension are fully prepared.

Cesar Vargas, a prominent DREAMer activist, said that for groups working on the ground, the most critical step ahead is informing the immigrant community of the possible expansions and preparing paperwork for a swift application process, which they expect to begin by June 2015. 

Meanwhile, undocumented immigrants are already falling victim to scammers presenting themselves as immigration lawyers. “We’re already hearing of people paying $2000, and we don’t even know the details of the executive order yet,” Vargas said.

And DREAMer groups are already looking ahead to potential 2016 candidates for their responses to the shutdown threats, Vargas said. “Everybody’s operating within the 2016 context,” Vargas said. “They’re going to have to walk a delicate line on how they want to approach it and if they really want to attack the action.”