President Obama has asked the secretary of Homeland Security to do the review.
By SEUNG MIN KIM and REID J. EPSTEIN
President Barack Obama finally bowed to pressure from immigration rights activists and signaled on Thursday that he may change his deportation policy.
The president changed course after months of claiming there was nothing his White House could do to stem the flow of deportations of undocumented immigrants. Obama announced in a meeting readout that he has requested a review of his administration’s enforcement policies for immigration laws to see if that enforcement can be done “more humanely within the confines of the law,” the White House said Thursday.
To immigrant rights activists, however, that is something of a victory. It means Obama is taking steps toward changing the administration’s deportation policies — though the groups won’t be satisfied until the policies are in force.
The announcement comes after Obama and the White House for months insisted there was nothing the administration could do to stem the flow of deportations short of Congress passing comprehensive immigration reform, which is unlikely to happen soon. And it came as Hispanic lawmakers were weighing a formal statement demanding Obama act on his own.
The White House made the announcement after Obama met for more than an hour Thursday evening with three leading members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus amid a furor in the Latino and immigration-rights community over the number of deportations of undocumented immigrants during his administration.
“The president emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system,” the White House said in a readout of the meeting.
Obama asked Jeh Johnson, the Department of Homeland Security secretary, to conduct the review, the White House said. Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra of California, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Rubén Hinojosa of Texas attended the Thursday meeting at the White House. The three congressmen did not speak to reporters upon leaving the White House.
“It is clear that the pleas from the community got through to the President,” Gutierrez said in a later statement. “The CHC will work with him to keep families together. The President clearly expressed the heartbreak he feels because of the devastating effect that deportations have on families.”
The CHC released a statement late Thursday calling the meeting “productive” and saying members will meet soon with Johnson to discuss “moving forward in a constructive manner.”
The White House has scheduled a meeting Friday afternoon with Obama for a half-dozen top immigration activists, many of whom have demanded the president do something on immigration.
The White House meeting came as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which has played a key role on setting immigration policy for House Democrats, has been wrestling with a resolution aimed at Obama on deportations that would take a sharp line against the administration.
Key lawmakers and immigration reform advocates, highly skeptical that the GOP-led House will take up legislation this year, have upped pressure on the Obama administration to use executive action to suspend deportations they view as unnecessary.
Obama and his aides had repeatedly said that is not an option. Still, advocates were hopeful that Obama will issue a directive similar to one he announced in spring 2012, which deferred deportations for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.