Slowing deportations could hurt chances for House immigration action

5/13/2014

Slowing deportations could hurt chances for House immigration action

Slowing deportations could hurt chances for House immigration action

By Brian Bennett and Christi Parsons

Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (MCT) — After some of President Barack Obama's closest political allies unexpectedly accused him of enforcing immigration laws too aggressively, the president ordered his aides this spring to find ways to ease the pace of deportations.

Now some of those same advocacy groups are quietly urging the White House to slow that effort down, warning that ordering changes without congressional approval could spook House Republicans and kill any chances of a legislative fix this year.

House Speaker John A. Boehner's staff has been drafting bills in a bid to offer a Republican response to the comprehensive immigration and border security bill that passed the Senate last June. Boehner has been unable to muster enough support to move any of his bills in the GOP-controlled House, however.

A White House move to scale back deportations would unite House Republicans in opposition and end the push for reform, said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, an advocacy group. "It would kill it right away."

"Republicans are looking for an excuse not to do it," agreed Angela Kelley, an immigration expert at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with close ties to the White House.

Kelley said Obama should consider delaying the review of deportation procedures that he ordered in March, and give the House time to act. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson is expected to complete the review and make his recommendations by June.

"The last thing we need is for the president to be doing things that can be interpreted as selectively enforcing the law," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who supports immigration reform, said in a telephone interview.

Diaz-Balart said the window for the House to act is before it adjourns for its August recess. "This is not the time to use unilateral action."

White House aides say they are loath to order a delay, however, and Obama made it clear Tuesday that he wouldn't sign a bill unless it contains a way for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally to obtain legal status and ultimately become citizens.

That's anathema to many House Republicans, who call it amnesty.

Senior White House advisers say Obama won't use administrative powers to order sweeping changes. Rather, they say, Homeland Security officials may move forward with smaller fixes while Obama presses House Republicans to either pass the Senate bill or come up with something he can accept in its stead.

In remarks to police chiefs Tuesday before a meeting at the White House, Obama said he wasn't "hell bent" on getting House Republicans to agree to all the provisions of the Senate bill.

But he said he wouldn't sign a bill unless it contains "a way for people to earn some pathway to citizenship."

In the White House meeting, Johnson said he was considering limiting when immigration agents can contact local jails to ask them to hold undocumented immigrants, according to two police chiefs who attended the session.

Under a program called Secure Communities, immigration officials are automatically notified whenever someone without legal immigration status is booked. Federal agents can ask the jail to detain the person for possible deportation.

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