President Barack Obama has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to review its practices to see if U.S. immigration laws can be enforced more humanely, according to the White House.
“The president emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system,” the White House said in a statement after Obama met last night with the chairman and two other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Obama’s move comes amid pressure from advocates for undocumented immigrants who are calling on his administration to change policies that lead to about 1,000 deportations a day, more than under any previous U.S. president.
There were 1.93 million forced departures during Obama’s first five years in office, almost as many as the eight-year total under former President George W. Bush.
The advocates for undocumented immigrants say the administration’s deportation policies are too aggressive and fracture families.
Republican critics of Obama, though, say he is too lax in enforcing immigration laws and securing the U.S. border. Halting deportations “would further poison the well” for Obama in his dealings with Republicans, Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican on the House Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee, said in an interview last month.
Churches and labor groups including the AFL-CIO say that Obama could build favor among Hispanic voters for fellow Democrats before the November midterm congressional elections by easing deportations, as he did before his 2012 re-election.
At last night’s meeting, Obama told the Hispanic lawmakers that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson would “do an inventory of the Department’s current practices to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law,” the White House statement said.
Obama has pushed for revisions to immigration law that would include creating a path to citizenship for undocumented residents. That effort has stalled in the Republican-controlled House.
Representatives Ruben Hinojosa of Texas, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, and Xavier Becerra of California, all Democrats, attended the White House meeting and also discussed with Obama efforts to pressure Republicans to change course and pass immigration legislation this year. Hinojosa is the current chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Gutierrez, who has been a leader in the push to ease deportations, said after the meeting “it is clear that pleas from the community got through to the president.”
In a statement, he said the Hispanic caucus “ will work with him to keep families together. The president clearly expressed the heartbreak he feels because of the devastating effect that deportations have on families.”
Gutierrez also said he and Obama agreed “that the ultimate solution and responsibility for fixing our broken immigration system rests with the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and we will work together to demand Republicans take action.”
The Senate passed a measure revamping immigration law last year. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has ruled out action on a broad bill such as the Senate’s, though, saying a piecemeal approach addressing specific issues is the better way to go.
Boehner and Obama met at the White House last month and discussed the administration’s call for immigration policy changes.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said March 11 that the labor group has identified “nine or ten” Republicans that leaders see as most likely to work with Democrats to force Republican leaders to allow a vote on legislation allowing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
While it’s rare for House lawmakers to buck their party’s leadership and help force a vote with the chamber’s minority, Trumka said union members will target as many as 17 Republicans who might be swayed -- and if they won’t it will become an election issue.
The leader of a Los Angeles-based group advocating for day laborers, who are often undocumented immigrants, reacted to last night’s meeting by saying Obama “has no excuse to continue his unjust deportation policy.”
Pablo Alvarado, head of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement that “the Congressional Hispanic Caucus should not delay joining what is now a consensus position that the president can and should suspend deportations.”
He also said, “It is clear that the House of Representatives is held hostage by a vigilante wing of the Republican Party.”