"This is about protecting families," said Richard Morales, immigration policy director for PICO, which stands for People Improving Communities Through Organizing, during a Dec. 1 news conference in the chapel of the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.
"There is tremendous fear in our communities. This is a moral rather than legal issue. The president does have the constitutional power to grant these pardons and he needs to act," he added.
The gathering was organized by PICO, a national network based in Oakland, California, that was founded in 1972 by a Jesuit priest.
The group is currently circulating a petition to deliver to the White House Dec. 15 urging the Obama administration to grant these pardons. It is also urging local elected officials, governors, mayors and churches across the country to take steps to designate themselves sanctuaries, protecting immigrants from deportation, in response to President-elect Donald Trump promises to deport 2 to 3 million immigrants without documentation.
"We need to think about our kids, our neighbours and their dreams," said Miguel Oaxaca, a faith leader with Together Colorado, an immigrant advocacy group. "I am an immigrant, a father, a business owner, but most importantly, I am your neighbour. Today, I'm asking President Obama as a father to keep families together."
"When families are broken and shattered, our country is broken and shattered," said Bishop Dwayne Royster, founding pastor of Living Water United Church of Christ in Philadelphia and PICO's political director. "Our faith traditions underscore the power of redemption. Tens of thousands of our nonviolent brothers and sisters languish in prisons" because of U.S. policies on drugs, he said.
Reyna Montoya, a Catholic from Arizona involved in immigrant justice work, made a heartfelt plea to break down divisions.
"When I think about the moment we're in, I think about a nation that is completely divided, without compassion and without seeing each other," said Montoya, who has DACA status from Obama's 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Under the program, young immigrants brought into the United States by their parents as young children without legal permission are protected from deportation for two-year periods.
"Every single person in the nation has the opportunity to walk in the light or in the darkness. This is about people, our neighbours, our communities," she said.