White House to look for more humane deportation practices

Family members reunite through bars and mesh of the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Friendship Park in San Diego, Calif., Nov. 17, 2014.
Family members reunite through bars and mesh of the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Friendship Park in San Diego, Calif., Nov. 17, 2014.

Following through on a subtle warning to take action on fixing the nation’s broken immigration system, the White House announced late Thursday that it would launch a review of the United States' deportation practices to see if they could be enforced more humanely.

After a meeting between Obama and leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the White House released a statement saying, “The president emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system."

“He 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,” the statement, issued by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, continued. “The president thanked the members of the CHC for their work on these challenging issues, and expressed his strong desire to work together to put pressure on congressional Republicans to pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible.”

The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill last year, but House Republicans have yet to take meaningful action on the issue. In fact, the only immigration-related vote GOP leaders have allowed in that chamber was on an amendment to deport young undocumented immigrants, known as DREAMers, which passed with almost unanimous Republican support.

Though the president has made immigration reform a top priority of his second term, his administration has presided over more deportations than any in history --approximately 2 million to date. In 2012, Obama put a stop to deportations for DREAMers, but activists have hounded him to do more, even heckling him during a recent speech.

Earlier this month, the president held a town-hall-style meeting with Latinos where he pushed back against an accusation from Janet Murguia, head of the National Council of La Raza -- the nation’s largest Latino advocacy group -- that he has become a “deporter-in-chief.”

“[I’m] constrained in terms of what I am able to do,” Obama said at the Newseum town hall last week, insisting that the onus is on Congress to pass legislation on the matter. “I cannot ignore those laws any more than I can ignore any of the other laws that are on the books.”

Thursday’s announcement, however, marks a shift in Obama’s approach to reforming the nation’s immigration system. Pro-immigration lawmakers applauded the effort.

“It is clear that the pleas from the community got through to the president," Democratic Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez said in a statement. “The CHC will work with him to keep families together.”

Others noted that the White House review of deportation practices could ramp up pressure on House Republicans to work on comprehensive reform.

“It's crystal clear where the issue of immigration reform is headed, and Republicans have only two choices to make,” said New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer in a statement. “They can either help pass comprehensive reform which will greatly reduce the flow of illegal immigrants, grow our economy by bringing in needed workers in high tech and agriculture areas, and provide a hard-earned path to eventual citizenship for the 11 million in the shadows, or they can sit idly by and watch the President greatly curtail deportations while 11 million continue to live in limbo here in America. The choice is clear.”