President Barack Obama announced last week that deportation policies will be reviewed to make sure that enforcement is done “more humanely”. He asked Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to conduct the review. The President in making this pronouncement also expressed his “deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system.”
After many months of maintaining that the White House has no power to stop deportations, the President’s move is welcomed by many immigrant-rights advocates. The President has been insisting that the law must be followed and only Congress can pass a legislation halting deportations. Last year, he also indicated that he cannot ease enforcement because his priority is to push for the passage of the immigration reform bill.
With the immigration reform bill still not moving in Congress, advocates intensified their campaign to pressure the President to stop deportations.
The number of deportations under the Obama administration will reach 2 million this April, a lot more than the deportations under the Bush administration. This prompted the National Council of La Raza to call the President “deporter-in-chief”. According to Secretary Johnson, this number also includes those who were turned away at the border which were not regarded as deportation in previous administrations.
According to Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress, around 5,000 American children end up in foster homes because one or both their parents have been deported.
The high number of deportations likewise prompted Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey to appeal to the President to slow deportations.
While the President pledged to review enforcement policies, he stressed that he would not be able to legally stop deportations nor expand the 2012 order called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which granted temporary deportation reprieve to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
One of the proposed changes in policy being considered by officials of the Department of Homeland Security would be to ease up on the deportations of aliens who violated immigration laws but do not have criminal convictions. With this change in place, enforcement would be focused on aliens who have been charged or convicted of crimes and those who pose a threat to public safety.
Another proposed change is easing up on the program called “Secure Communities.” Under this program, immigration authorities are allowed to request local jails to hold undocumented aliens until they are transferred to federal facilities. If this proposed change is approved, local detentions will be restricted.
Meanwhile, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama sees the President’s latest move as “further demonstrating that he cannot be trusted to enforce any immigration plan from Congress.” Speaker Boehner’s spokesman Brendan Buck also pointed out that, “the President is obligated to enforce the laws we have. Failing to do so would damage – perhaps beyond repair – our ability to build the trust necessary to enact real immigration reform.”
The White House stressed that only a legislation enacted by Congress can fix the broken immigration system and efforts are continually being made to pressure the GOP-led House to pass the immigration reform bill.
Meantime, the President has executive authority to grant temporary reprieve from deportation as part of his “prosecutorial discretion.” He used his executive authority when he deferred deportation of thousands of young undocumented immigrants by issuing the DACA order.
With the continued refusal of House Republicans to act on the immigration reform bill, millions of undocumented immigrants are hopeful that the President will exercise his executive authority once again and keep them from being separated from their families.