Obama meets with immigration advocates in wake of criticism over his record on deportations

McClatchy Washington BureauMarch 14, 2014 

Immigration Protest

Bibiana Vazquez, of Phoenix, and a member of Arizona Dream Act Coalition, participates in a protest march Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, to Phoenix Detention Center (ICE Downtown Detention Center) demanding President Obama stop deportations now.

CHERYL EVANS/THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC — ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Obama was meeting Friday with a host of immigration advocates -- a day after he said he’d direct his administration to find a more “humane” way to enforce immigration laws.

Facing a backlash from Hispanic groups for an aggressive record of deportations, the White House said Thursday night that Obama had told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that he’d 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.”

Johnson and top administration officials, including John Podesta, counselor to the president, were meeting with Obama Friday, along with officials from the Center for Community Change, the National Immigration Law Center, America’s Voice, the AFL-CIO, the National Immigration Forum and Janet Murguia, the president of the National Council of la Raza, who last week blasted Obama as the “deporter in chief.”

As recently as last week, Obama insisted that he’s "constrained" by Congress's refusal to pass a sweeping immigration overhaul and must carry out legal deportations.

"I can not ignore those laws," he said last Thursday at a town hall meeting aimed at pitching his health care plan to Latinos. He said he's used executive action to prevent some deportations, including for college students brought here by their parents and suggested he could do no more unilaterally.

"That already stretched my administrative capacity," he said.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday that Obama has asked Johnson to review his agency’s practices “to ensure that within the confines of the law, we are carrying out these policies in the most humane way possible, because he is very cognizant of the pain that families who are separated have been feeling as a result of deportations.”

But he insisted that for full relief, Congress will have to pass legislation: “There is no fix here that does not include legislation,” he said.

The Senate has passed an immigration overhaul bill, but the Republican-led House has balked, despite fears among some in the party that it’s opposition could hurt it with Hispanic voters in the 2016 presidential race.

Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, said the group supports Obama’s review but called it “clearly a stopgap measure.

“To permanently fix the broken system, Congress must once and for all enact commonsense reforms to our immigration system,” Noorani said. “For real solutions, the House must vote on immigration reform this year.”

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