Thursday, March 13, 2014

 

Obama Orders Review of Deportations, Citing a Concern for Families

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WASHINGTON — President Obama said Thursday that deportations of illegal immigrants should be more humane, and he has ordered a review of his administration’s policies to make that happen without changing the law.

Mr. Obama revealed the effort in an Oval Office meeting with Hispanic lawmakers on Thursday afternoon, telling them that he had “deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system,” according to a White House statement.

“It is clear that the pleas from the community got through to the president,” Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois, said in a statement after the meeting. He added that he and his two colleagues — Representative Rubén Hinojosa, Democrat of Texas, and Representative Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California — “were adamant that the president needed to act.”

Mr. Obama — who told the lawmakers that he had ordered Jeh C. Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, to conduct the evaluation — is under increasing pressure from Latino advocates to all but suspend aggressive efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to deport illegal immigrants. Activists and Hispanic lawmakers say the government is ripping families apart by deporting people whose only crime is coming to the country illegally. Some groups said Thursday that a review by Mr. Johnson would not go far enough.

“Relief delayed is relief denied,” said Pablo Alvarado, the director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “The President has no excuse to continue his unjust deportation policy.”

More illegal immigrants have been deported during the Obama administration than under any previous president, officials say. Within weeks, the government is likely to have deported two million immigrants during Mr. Obama’s six years in office, a milestone that has intensified anger among some Hispanics.

The issue could be a critical one for Democratic candidates in this year’s midterm elections, many of whom rely on Latinos to turn out and vote for them in big numbers. Activists have told White House officials that anger about deportations threatens to depress Hispanic turnout.

But any effort to pull back on deportations could threaten to undermine longer-term hopes for bipartisan legislation to overhaul the immigration system. Republican opponents of such an overhaul say they do not trust Mr. Obama to adequately enforce the security of the nation’s borders.

In the past several months, Mr. Obama and top advisers have repeatedly told activists that the president’s hands are tied by laws that require him to spend millions of dollars in an effort to eject people who have crossed into the country without the proper papers.

During a November speech, Mr. Obama responded to a heckler who shouted that the president had “a power to stop deportation for all undocumented immigrants in this country.”

Mr. Obama responded: “Actually, I don’t. And that’s why we’re here.”

White House officials said late Thursday that the president would not suspend deportations because his advisers did not believe such a move would be legal. He also will not expand his 2012 order to defer deportations of illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as young children, aides said.

But activists have refused to back down. Janet Murguía, who leads the National Council of La Raza, said last week that Mr. Obama was the “deporter in chief” and accused his administration of leaving “a wake of devastation for families across America."


Privately, top Obama aides have expressed frustration at the pressure from Hispanic activists that the president take unilateral action to stop deportations. But the push for Mr. Obama to take action has moved in recent weeks from fringe activists to the mainstream. Last week, Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, a leading Latino voice in Congress, called on Mr. Obama to do something dramatic.

“While we continue waiting for the House of Representatives to wake up and move on immigration reform legislation, I urge the President to take action today and halt needless deportations that are splitting apart our families and communities,” he said.

White House officials said that Mr. Obama would meet on Friday with activists from a number of Latino organizations to further discuss legislation to overhaul immigration and to hear their concerns about deportations.

Angela Kelley, the vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, said that activists also understand the importance of keeping up pressure on Republicans in the House, who have refused to consider a bipartisan Senate bill to overhaul immigration.

“Make no mistake,” she said. “It is the Republicans who are responsible for the fact that we don’t have reform today.”

But Ms. Kelley said that activists were angry that the Senate legislation has stalled, and, in the meantime, they are looking to Mr. Obama to do something to slow the record number of deportations. She noted that more than 5,000 American children are in foster homes because one or more of their parents have been deported.

“We have reached a crisis point,” Ms. Kelley said. “The question is, which end of Pennsylvania Avenue” will fix the problem.
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