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Obama Promises Dreamers He'll Veto Bills to Deport Them, Others

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WASHINGTON, DC — Once the target of their protests, President Barack Obama huddled Tuesday with a handful of young immigrants to reassure them he would veto legislation to deport them.

The young immigrants who met with him had benefited from Obama's decision in 2012 to grant them relief from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Beyond taking them off the deportation list, the action also allowed many young immigrants to work legally.

“He’s a champion for us. He changed our lives for us completely. I’m forever going to look back years later and be like, 'President Obama changed my life completely.'” said Blanca Gamez who said she didn’t participate in labeling the president “deporter in chief” last year when immigrant activists were pushing for executive action.

Gamez, of Las Vegas, holds a political science and English degree from University of Las Vegas and is pursuing a law degree. Originally from Sonora, Mexico, Gamez said her sister is a U.S. citizen and so was able to sponsor her father for legal permanent residency.

Her mother is here illegally, but can now apply for DAPA under Obama’s most recent executive action for parents of legal resident or U.S. citizen children.

The meeting served a dual purpose. It was timed to highlight the ongoing effort by Republicans in Congress to block the president’s more recent executive action on immigration and to humanize the consequences.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., has been keeping up some of that opposition.

"The president’s unlawful amnesty provides work permits, Medicare, Social Security, and free tax credits to 5 million people illegally present in the United States – taking jobs and benefits directly from struggling Americans," he said.

Action Obama took late last year allows more young immigrants here illegally to apply, beginning Feb. 18, for three years of deportation relief and work permits. It also would allow parents of U.S. citizen and legal resident children to apply for similar benefits, known as DAPA.

But also Obama sought to highlight the youths’ stories to ensure immigrants apply for the relief he’s made possible, helping to build re-enforcements against Republican efforts to expel the 11 million immigrants now living in the U.S. illegally.

Steven Arteaga of Houston said Obama told the young people in the meeting that the Republican maneuvering on the Homeland Security spending bill was mere theatrics, because he has the votes to stop legislation that includes amendments to undo his immigration actions and even if it passed, he would veto it.

The bill offered by Senate Republicans Tuesday failed to get enough votes to move forward. The House already passed a bill with the immigration amendments.

“All the Dreamers that are out there and all those who qualified for my executive action moving forward, I want you to know I am confident in my ability to implement this program over the next two years,” Obama said after meeting with the youths. “And I am confident that the next president and the next Congress and the American people will ultimately recognize why this is the right thing to do.”

A staffer who attended the meeting said Praeli’s story seemed to touch Obama emotionally. He was seen wiping beneath his eye as Praeli cried while telling the president about seeing her mother break down and hug the iPad she was using to watch the funeral of her mother, Praeli’s grandmother.

Arteaga also took aim at Texas Gov. Greg Abbott who is leading a fight against Obama’s executive action through a lawsuit that has been joined by several states.

The event also had some overtones for the presidential race. As noted by Maria Praeli, of Hamden, Conn., who met with Obama, the more people who get deportation relief the harder it will be for a presidential candidate to say he or she would get rid of the privilege.

“It would not be a very smart political move for the next presidential candidate to come out and say I’m going to get rid of this program that so far has benefitted almost 700,000 undocumented individuals who are just trying to pursue an education,” said Praeli, 21, originally from Peru and a leader in the United We Dream immigration activist group.

Some 70 percent of young immigrants who qualified for the original DACA program applied, said Jean Yannick Diouf, 22, of Dakar, Senegal a student at the University of Maryland who said DACA helped him provide for his family after his father no longer lived with them.

The intention is for the young immigrants, all involved in their community - Diouf mentors younger children - to take back their messages and encourage other immigrants living illegally in the country to come forward and apply.

“I don’t think there is anybody in America who had a chance to talk to these six young people … who wouldn’t find it in their hearts to say these kids are American just like us and they belong here and we want to do right by them,” Obama said.

A staffer who attended the meeting said Praeli’s story seemed to touch Obama emotionally. He was seen wiping beneath his eye as Praeli cried while telling the president about seeing her mother break down and hug the iPad she was using to watch the funeral of her mother, Praeli’s grandmother.

The president mentioned the story generally while speaking to reporters. “The stories you hear from these young people are parents who aspired for a better life for their children … Young people who have memories of their mothers weeping because they couldn’t go to the funeral of their parent now have seen the prospect, the hope, that their lives can stabilize and normalize in some way.”

But Obama is not cleared completely of criticism. The DRM Action Coalition, one of the groups who actively protested against Obama and used the “deporter-in-chief” label, asked in a statement whether Obama would discuss in the meeting with Dreamers the 7 million people who can’t apply for DACA or DAPA “or merely use the Dreamers as political props to win more Latino support for Democrats?”

But Obama is not cleared completely of criticism. One group asked the President whether Dreams weren't being used as "political props."

Rishi Singh of South Ozone Park, NY, raised the issue with the president, who told the Dreamers he's done all he can within his power and it is now up to Congress. “We know the work is not done. We fought to get the most recent executive action and will continue to fight so all of our people are able to come out of the shadows and continue to live and work in dignity,” Singh, and immigration organizer with DRUM-South Asian Organizing Center, said following the meeting.

Bati Tsogtsaikhan of Arlington, Va., a fellow at the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, also attended the meeting with Obama,

The debate aside, Arteaga said he had rehearsed what he planned to say to the president when he met with him, but when he saw Obama's long, lean figure open the door to the the Oval Office door, he was speechless and forgot to introduce himself.

Diouf said he relied on humor to counter his nervousness in meeting the president. “I told him he looked familiar,” Diouf said. “And he laughed.”