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Democrats Close Ranks Around Obama, Immigration Action

Democrats are laying the groundwork for President Barack Obama to take executive action on immigration, which some believe could come this week.
Image: Esmeralda Tepetate, Sebastian Tepetate
US citizens Esmeralda Tepetate, 10, with her brother Sebastian, 2, whose parents are originally from Mexico, holds a sign that says "stop separating families" during a rally for comprehensive immigration reform, Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, outside of the White House in Washington. After the midterm elections immigration groups are pushing for executive action. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)Jacquelyn Martin / AP

In contrast to the midterm elections, Democrats are closing ranks around President Barack Obama in anticipation of him using his presidential pen to act on immigration.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was lead signatory on a letter from him and five other Senate Democrats urging Obama to act.

"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 letter states.

House Democrats had sent a similar letter last week signed by 117 House Democrats.

Obama had planned to announce executive action at the end of summer but that plan has been on hold for about three months after Democratic Senate candidates became fearful the issue would hurt their campaigns. Democrats failed to keep control of the Senate anyway.

There was some expectation the president might wait until after Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu's Dec. 6 election runoff against GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy. A key issue in their campaign is expansion of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which has been on hold. The House voted to allow expansion to move forward and the Senate was to vote Tuesday evening.

Republicans have threatened to counter any action taken by the president with ideas floated from using the appropriations process to curb his actions to impeachment. Some Hispanic Republican activists have said the president should wait but also said the GOP needs to put up an alternative proposal.

In an interview with NBC News, Sen. Bob Menendez, who also signed the letter, said it was outrageous for Republicans to suggest Obama is "poisoning the well" for future immigration reform legislation when the House GOP failed to advance any legislation this past session. Obama refused to take any executive action during that time hoping to see the GOP House pass its own bills.

"I hope our community wakes up to the reality of who the people are that are creating obstacles," said Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who signed the Senate letter supporting Obama on executive action over Republican objections.

"They are the ones that went to the community and said, "See Obama lied to you," yet they are the very ones who didn't vote for immigration reform and who oppose executive action. I hope our community wakes up to the reality of who the people are that are creating obstacles," said Menendez, who has for many months urged Obama to take bold action.

Other Senate Democrats who signed the letter are Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Patty Murray, D-Wash. and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

The Democrats' letter asks for the president to expand on the deferred deportation action, known as DACA, that was done for young immigrants to people with strong ties to the U.S. and who have not committed serious crimes. Deferred action essentially puts its recipients on a do not deport list (as long as no crimes are committed) and provides work permits.

The senators asked for more effective immigration and border enforcement. They asked for a focus on threats to public safety and suggested revising the Department of Homeland Security's immigration enforcement priorities and prosecutorial discretion - essentially the way immigrants are ranked for deportation – and some changes to the Secure Communities fingerprinting program.

The senators also want some improvements to the legal immigration system so families are not split apart and employers can sponsor more talented immigrants for eventual citizenship.

The House letter mentioned similar goals and also asked for recognition that farmworkers not legally here are "essential for agriculture."