Vermont's most powerful politician has gone to bat for Danilo Lopez, the 23-year-old migrant farmworker activist fighting deportation back to Mexico.
In a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Wednesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy writes that the immigration reform bill he is presently shepherding through the Senate "could potentially resolve Mr. Lopez's current immigration case." If passed, the bill would give Lopez "the opportunity to petition for legalization under the proposed Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) program."
But Leahy conceded the bill would not pass or become law before Lopez's scheduled July 6 deadline to self-deport.
"As you continue to consider Mr. Lopez's case, especially in light of pending legislation in the Senate, I urge you to exercise prosecutorial discretion," Leahy wrote to Napolitano, who oversees U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Lopez was placed into deportation proceedings following a traffic stop on I-89 in 2011, but has since become a leader in the movement to organize migrants working illegally on Vermont dairy farms and to pass legislation to improve their living conditions. More background here.
Lopez mailed a final appeal to ICE on Wednesday asking the agency to apply a form of leniency called "prosecutorial discretion" that would allow him to remain in Vermont. That petition has more than 1000 signatures from supporters and dozens of letters.
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch have also petitioned ICE on Lopez's behalf, but both stopped short of explicitly asking the agency to apply prosecutorial discretion to Lopez's case. In a letter sent to ICE director John Morton on Wednesday, Welch asked the official to "carefully review Mr. Lopez's request for reconsideration of Prosecutorial Discretion and give it full and fair consideration under the full extent of the law."