President Obama said Thursday that deportations of illegal immigrants should be more humane, and to make that happen, he has ordered a review of his administration's enforcement efforts. 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. Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois, said afterward that it was "clear that the pleas from the community got through to the president."
Early on in his first term, President Obama thought he knew how to make comprehensive immigration reform a reality, and in theory, his plan made sense. The administration would increase border security and deportations of immigrants who entered the country illegally, which was intended to prove to congressional Republicans that the president is "serious" about addressing the issue.
Even some Republicans conceded that Obama's approach "helped a lot" in generating broad support for comprehensive reform in the Senate.
But in the GOP-led House, it just didn't matter. House Republicans haven't been willing to accept any concessions as part of a bipartisan compromise, and remain wholly unimpressed with the White House's efforts to demonstrate good faith through harsh security measures.
So, it probably shouldn't come as too big a surprise that Obama is reconsidering the value of the harsh security measures themselves. If the president did this to generate support on Capitol Hill for a reform bill, but House Republicans still won't even allow a vote on a bipartisan reform package, it stands to reason that Obama will give his strategy a second look.
There's some disagreement about just how much discretion the president has in this area, beyond the steps he's already taken (deferred action on Dream Act kids, for example). But the White House issued a statement last night saying Obama "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."
I've seen multiple suggestions that if Obama pulls back on deportations, it will close the door entirely on congressional action. That may be true. But in practical terms, this isn't an especially persuasive defense -- if House Republicans refuse to act anyway, what incentive does the president have to keep trying to make them happy?
The Senate approved a popular, bipartisan bill. It enjoys the support of business leaders, labor unions, immigrant advocates, and the faith community. It lowers the deficit and boosts economic growth. If brought to the House floor, it might even pass.
But Republicans leaders won't even allow a vote. The White House is supposed to wait indefinitely for action that will probably never come?
It's worth emphasizing that we don't yet know what, if anything, the DHS "inventory" will conclude, and chances are unlikely that it would lead to a sweeping suspension of the existing deportation policy.
But the president's latest move is at least a start towards a more compassionate approach -- a step congressional Republicans have been unwilling to take.
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March 14, 201401:03