Make deportation policy ‘more humane,’ Obama instructs DHS
President Obama, under pressure from Hispanic leaders, ordered the
secretary of Homeland Security to find a way to act more humanely on
deportations, ‘within the confines of the law.’
By Elizabeth Barber
President Obama has ordered a review of his administration’s
deportation policies with the goal of making them more “humane,”
following accusations by advocates for immigrants that US practices
are lacking in compassion.
In a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) leadership
Thursday evening, Mr. Obama said he is asking the Department of
Homeland Security to address enforcement practices that the advocates
say target not just high-priority criminals and recent illegal
immigrants but also undocumented immigrants who have built lives in
The announcement fired up Obama’s GOP critics, who said that the
administration can’t be trusted to enforce the nation’s immigration
Obama asked Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to review the
department’s current practices to see “how it can conduct enforcement
more humanely within the confines of the law,” according to a White
Obama, whose administration to date has deported almost 2 million
foreigners in the country illegally, has been under boiling pressure
from the Hispanic caucus and pro-immigration activists nationwide to
recalibrate how the federal government enforces its immigration laws.
Such critics have alleged that the administration’s practices lack
compassion — going after immigrants who have committed no other crime
except entering the U.S. — and result in families splintered between
That criticism has become all the more visible in recent months, as
advocates turn to more extreme measures to press Obama to intervene in
what they say is a problem that can’t wait for a gridlocked Congress
to stop politicking.
Immigrants awaiting judgment on their relatives’ immigration status or
fearing for their own status have stopped eating in protest. People
have chained themselves to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
offices, turned themselves in to ICE officers, and staged emotional,
highly publicized protests at U.S.-Mexican border fences, reaching
through the barriers to hold the hands of deported relatives.
Moreover, the criticism of Obama has also become personal. The CHC
Immigration Task Force chairman, Luis Gutierrez (D) of Illinois, who
was at the meeting with the president Thursday, had last week called
Obama a “deporter-in-chief” and a “dishonest” president, chiding him
for unfulfilled campaign promises to overhaul immigration policies,
according to Roll Call.
But, in a statement after the meeting, Mr. Gutierrez took a different
tone, pinning the holdup not on Obama but on Congress.
“It is clear that the pleas from the community got through to the
president,” he said. “The president clearly expressed the heartbreak
he feels because of the devastating effect that deportations have on
“I agree with the president 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,” he added.
In that statement, Gutierrez appeared to cede to the Obama
administration’s longtime stance that the administration, bound by
current federal laws that require it to meet quotas for detaining
undocumented immigrants, can’t fix the deportation issue on its own.
Indeed, Obama and his top officials have for years responded to calls
for the administration to right deportation wrongs with aggressive
executive action by saying that the Oval Office is doing all that it
can on the issue, but, so long as the Hill stonewalls legislation on
the issue, cannot do more.
Still, Obama in 2012 ordered deportation reprieves for undocumented
immigrants brought to the U.S. as young children. Plus, an August
directive from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office ordered
agents not to arrest undocumented immigrants who are primary
caregivers of minor children, and it has issued similar directives
ordering leniency for longtime residents and students, among others.
Federal government data for the fiscal year 2013 — which, for the
first time, broke down deportation numbers into deportations handled
along the U.S. border and deportation processed in the U.S. interior –
also suggests that most deportations come from the border, not from
inside the U.S., where settled families might be split up, their lives
The numbers, quoted in a recent Christian Science Monitor article,
show that authorities deported 368,644 people that year, just 133,551
of whom were deported from the interior.
But the White House has not had much luck winning congressional
go-ahead for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. In June, a
bipartisan bill to retool the U.S.’s immigration laws passed the
Senate. But it has been hung up in the Republican-controlled House,
where GOP lawmakers bristled at its reforms, saying that the
US-Mexican border is not well enough policed as it is and that
immigration policies should be sterner, not laxer.
GOP House members in January offered a set of principles supporting
legislation that prioritizes a “zero tolerance policy” for people
either trying to enter or living in the U.S. without legal papers.
Such a policy would be a precursor to providing paths to citizenship
to undocumented immigrants, according to the principles.
The House also on Wednesday passed a bill that would give either
chamber of Congress the power to sue the White House for failure to
enforce federal laws.
On Friday, GOP lawmakers said that Obama’s review of immigration
reforms could signal just that kind of executive overstep.The Obama
administration has already opted to defer action on deportation of the
children of illegal immigrants, without congressional authorization,
“This latest action further demonstrates that the administration
cannot be trusted to enforce any immigration plan from Congress,” said
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama, in a statement.
On the other hand, some advocates for an immigration overhaul said
that they expected more from the executive office than a review alone
and that Obama’s announcement did not go far enough. Pablo Alvarado,
director of the National Day Labor Organizing Network, said in a
statement after the Thursday meeting that the president had “no
excuse” for not following through on pledges to fix immigration
policies that break up families.
“Relief delayed is relief denied,” said Mr. Alvarado.