Congressman Luis Gutierrez, one of the leaders among Hispanics in Congress, says that the deportation review initiated by the Obama Administration is an excellent start to executive action on immigration, but that advocates must “remain vigilant,” and that there are other steps the Administration can take.

Gutierrez, who has been speaking out against the President’s immigration policies for some time, said that the deportation review order, put together by the Department of Homeland Security in August, reinforced his viewpoint that there were executive authority actions that the White House could take to improve the situation for DREAM Act students and the undocumented. “We kept saying he could take action, and finally there’s the memo that circulated,” Gutierrez said. “We were delighted, we were happy.”

The deportation review looks at all 300,000 deportation cases in the system, and filters down only to the undocumented who have been convicted of a serious crime. Only those who “pose a threat to America,” as Gutierrez put it, would be deported, and other resources would be put to a different use. In addition, some of those picked up and in the system would be eligible for a work permit while their cases are reviewed.

“Does it stop the deportations, no. It keeps things going until the review,” Gutierrez cautioned. “But going forward, they must adhere to these new criteria” of prioritizing only convicted criminals for deportation. “We think that will save hundreds of thousands of people” from deportation. The Obama Administration has set records for deportation, recently passing one million, about 2/3 as many as George W. Bush deported in his eight years.

Gutierrez warned that action would still be needed to save DREAM students and others from deportation. “The only way the policy really works, because it’s a policy recommendation from a memo, is if we remain vigilant.” He told a story about a 31 year-old Russian immigrant who came to the United States when he was 11, who was on the verge of deportation. “He was DREAM-eligible, he came here at an young age, he can’t speak Russian. We stopped his deportation using the memorandum,” Gutierrez said. “It’s a new tool, a new instrument we can use.” The Congressional Hispanic Caucus plan to sit down with DHS next week, to make sure that they are looking at all 300,000 cases as soon as possible, and that they are following the guidelines set out in the memorandum. And Gutierrez is embarking on a tour of several cities to explain the issue to local communities and get feedback.

Gutierrez brought up another issue, something else the President could do, and that concerns undocumented spouses of US citizens. Here’s how I described it previously:

Next, Gutierrez seeks a better definition of “extreme hardship” so that families who cannot travel to get their visa, or who have small children or are in the military, can stay in the country for a period of time. “If you’re undocumented and you get a visa, you have to stay out of the country for 10 years,” said Gutierrez. “An American citizen has to travel to Ciudad Juarez, which is the only place in Mexico to get a visa. And Americans are told by the State Department not to travel there because of the danger! That’s an extreme hardship.”

Gutierrez reiterated that today. “It’s an extreme hardship to have an American citizen separated from their spouse for 10 years.” He wants the Administration to clarify the law on this point, to eliminate this delay.