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Democrats, Activists on Immigration Action: ‘Bold is the Word’

Image: Steny Hoyer

Rep. Steny Hoyer urges bold executive action from President Barack Obama on immigration at a Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, news conference that united Democrats and activists, including some who have been critical of Obama's immigration policies. Suzanne Gamboa / NBC News

Progressive Democrats, Hispanic lawmakers, immigration activists and Rep. Steny Hoyer, part of the Democrats' leadership in the House, joined forces Wednesday to urge the president to take bold executive action on immigration and particularly, to do so on behalf of veterans.

Although they all support deportation relief, there had been some division among the factions before the elections, particularly after President Barak Obama delayed plans to take executive action on immigration. In addition, during midterm elections, Democrats in competitive races distanced themselves from Obama and tried to keep immigration reform out of the campaign mix.

But with the GOP soon to be in charge of Congress and warning Obama against executive action, Democrats appeared to be setting aside the pre-election disagreements to back the president.

“What the president needs to do is give immediate and significant relief to those families that are going to be wrenched apart and living in fear ... I will be proud to support the president of the United States in acting in a big, bold manner," Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., said veterans who return home from deployments to find family members or relatives ejected from the country need relief.

“Now, one day after Veterans Day, after everybody went out to the parades after everybody thanked our troops, day after the parades, after everybody thanked our troops, (to) remember that one of America’s bad secrets is the fact that we are not treating all our veterans equally,” Serrano said.

“Mr. President, bold is the word," he said.

Hoyer, whose father immigrated from Denmark, he joined in urging Obama to take action.

“What the president needs to do is give immediate and significant relief to those families that are going to be wrenched apart and living in fear,” Hoyer said. “I will be proud to support the president of the United States in acting in a big, bold manner.”

He was followed by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., co-chair of the Progressive Caucus in the House. Grijalva has been a staunch ally of groups that have been highly critical of the administration's deportation numbers.

"We're back here with the same tragedy," Grijalva said, referring to Congress' return to Washington for a lame-duck session.

Some veterans have mixed families and have to worry about the possible deportation of family members, he said. "Veterans are part of the tragedy we see because we have no immigration reform ... The solution is for the president, whom I support, to go big," Grijalva said.

The DRM Action Coalition, which has staged several protests criticizing Obama and his deportation policies, had representatives at the news conference.

Erika Andiola, a cofounder of DRM Action, was not there, but said in phone interview her group had talked to Hoyer and is building support for pressuring the president to go as big as possible on executive action.

“Republicans are going to say whatever they can to scare the president off, to make political threats, but now it is about giving the president as much courage as possible from his own party so he goes as big as he can,” Andiola said.

The news conference included several veterans, including Elizabeth Perez, 36, who said she served in the Reserves and then as a Marine. Her husband, Marco Antonio Perez-Mejia, was deported after he was stopped for running a red light. She was pregnant with their second child. They already had a four-month old child.

Her husband was “undocumented,” she said. “I didn’t understand what that meant. I’m from Cleveland."

Image: Elizabeth Perez, 36, a former Marine staff sergeant speaks at a news conference urging President Barack Obama to take bold executive action on immigration
Elizabeth Perez, 36, a former Marine staff sergeant speaks at a news conference urging President Barack Obama to take bold executive action on immigration and to particularly protect veterans and their families. Perez said her husband Marco Antonio Perez-Mejia was deported four years ago while she was pregnant and after she has served five years as a Marine. Suzanne Gamboa / NBC News

Perez said she has been waiting for something to happen on immigration reform. But she now faces having to leave the U.S. so she and her children can be with Perez-Mejia.

“Ten years of my life I spent for my country,” she said. “I will not be exiled from my country.

Organizers of the event said they have support from a broad base of groups, but no major veterans groups, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion, participated in the news conference.