Reacting to Latino activists who have labeled him the “deporter- in- chief,” President Obama has ordered the director of Homeland Security to find ways to make the deportations of illegal immigrants more humane, according to the White House.
With the approach of the midterm elections, when Democrats will be relying heavily on the Latino vote to hold onto their seats, the president is under pressure to make moves to appease the Latino community. As the number of deportations inches closer to 2 million during Obama’s six years in office, he has had the distinction of deporting more illegal immigrants than any previous president.
“For us, this president has been the deporter-in-chief,” Janet Murguia, who heads the National Council of La Raza, said in a recent speech.
The announcement by the White House came after the president had informed Latino lawmakers of his plans in a meeting in the Oval Office yesterday. The White House issued a statement saying Obama told the lawmakers he had “deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system.”
After the meeting, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois said, it was “clear that the pleas from the community got through to the president.”
Gutierrez said that he, Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, Democrat of Texas, and Rep. Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California, “were adamant that the president needed to act.”
At one time, the president hoped to get significant immigration reform through Congress. After the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill last June with strong bipartisan support that would create a pathway for citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally, tighten border security and establish new visa and enforcement programs, the bill went nowhere in the House because of the opposition of conservatives. But observers believe the president’s announcement yesterday may mean he’s willing to go the route of executive order to get something done, a move he has taken in other areas.
The White House statement said Obama “told the members that he has asked Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to do an inventory of the department’s current practices to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law.”
Though there are no details of how that humane deportation might work, immigration activists will likely call for Obama to halt deportations for parents of children brought to the U.S. illegally, among other steps. While the president has already moved to ease deportations for some of those children, such is not the case for their parents.
Gutierrez, who represents a heavily Latino district in Illinois and has criticized Obama for doing too little, said after the Oval Office meeting that he plans to present options to Johnson next week. After that, Johnson will meet with the entire Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss those and other options.
As expected, Republicans were not pleased by the latest development.
“Fifty million working-age Americans in this country don’t have jobs,” Stephen Miller, communications director for Sen.Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, told the New York Times. “And what does the president do? He takes more steps that would provide companies with illegal workers.”
But Angela Kelley, the vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, wanted to make clear that while they pressure Obama, they still need to keep pushing the Republicans in the House, who have refused to consider the bipartisan Senate bill to overhaul immigration.
“Make no mistake,” she told the Times. “It is the Republicans who are responsible for the fact that we don’t have reform today.”
Kelley pointed out that more than 5,000 American children are in foster homes because one or both parents have been deported.
“We have reached a crisis point,” Kelley said.
“The question is,” she added, “which end of Pennsylvania Avenue” will fix the problem.