WASHINGTON - While immigration reform is stalled in Congress, some members are calling on President Barack Obama to take the matter into his own hands, urging him to suspend deportations of undocumented immigrants.
Thirty Democratic members of Congress wrote in a letter that he has the authority to pause deportations of undocumented immigrants, urging "the sensible and moral step of stopping deportations."
"In fact, taking a strong step toward granting relief would move us in the direction of where the immigration debate rightfully should start, with the legalization of eleven million men and women who call the United States their home," the letter states.
The lawmakers are the most prominent of a growing chorus calling on Obama to use his executive authority to exercise "prosecutorial discretion" to suspend deportations of undocumented immigrants.
The issue catapulted to prominence last week when an audience member, Ju Hong, shouted at the President during an event in San Francisco, demanding that he stop deportations.
The President immediately rejected Hong's demand, saying he doesn't have the authority.
Now, some members of Congress say he does.
"Mr. President, you do have the power to stop what's going on," Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-New York, said at a news conference on Thursday.
In their letter, the members point to executive action in 201,2 when Obama exercised his discretion to suspend deportations of children of undocumented immigrants, known as Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals.
"Please, Mr. President, do something," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois. "We need you to take the kinds of positive action to help our families."
Although Obama has used his discretion to save some from deportation, he has aggressively expanded the program. He has expelled more people than any other president: For instance, 410,000 people were deported in 2012, compared with 116,000 in 2001.
In their letter, the lawmakers say that 1,100 people are deported every day.
Obama has shifted the type of immigrants targeted for deportation. While the administration of President George W. Bush targeted working immigrants by raiding workplaces, Obama is focusing on convicted criminals and "egregious" immigration violators, including recent border-crossers and illegal re-entrants.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement says its efforts are effective, pointing out that 55% of people deported last year were convicted criminals.
"Criminalizing American families or giving local law enforcement the responsibility to choose who stays and who goes is not the right option," the letter reads.
The Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform this year, including a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
The legislation has been stalled in the House and is unlikely to be taken up before the end of the year.