We’re Heading for a Showdown Over Deportations

The Obama administration is expected to make “modest” changes, while Republicans are already up in arms.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 15: Students (L-R) Sarait Escorza, 23, Isabelle Vargas, 20, and Maricella Aguilar, 21, block the on ramp of US101 freeway during a demonstration by immigrant students for an end to deportations and urge relief by governmental agencies for those in deportation proceedings on June 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. In a policy change, the Obama administration said it will stop deporting young illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children if they meet certain requirements. 
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Elahe Izadi
April 24, 2014, 9:49 a.m.

The pro­spects for im­mig­ra­tion re­form have come to a stand­still. And with the heat in­creas­ing on the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion from anti-de­port­a­tion ad­voc­ates, something is about to give.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is ex­pec­ted to an­nounce the res­ults of the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment’s de­port­a­tion policy re­view with­in the com­ing weeks, the The Wall Street Journ­al re­ports. The out­come will be much more mod­est than what many act­iv­ists have been clam­or­ing for: Rather than de­fer­ring de­port­a­tion pro­ceed­ings for mil­lions here il­leg­ally, ac­tions un­der re­view could af­fect a smal­ler num­ber of people who have been in the U.S. for a long time, but have minor or no crim­in­al vi­ol­a­tions. Last year, such people rep­res­en­ted 50,000 de­port­a­tions.

Ex­pect such re­lief to be wel­comed by ad­voc­ates, but still leave many dis­sat­is­fied that it has not gone far enough.

On the flip side, such ac­tions — really, any de­port­a­tion ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion — will be used as fur­ther am­muni­tion in the de­fense against do­ing any­thing on im­mig­ra­tion policy this year. Re­pub­lic­ans, even those who have spoken in fa­vor of im­mig­ra­tion re­form, have said it can’t hap­pen while law­makers don’t trust the pres­id­ent to en­force laws already on the books.

Want to get an in­dic­a­tion of where this is all head­ing? Just take a look at this let­ter, signed by 22 Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors, in­clud­ing Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, sent to Obama on Thursday. They write, “Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, the changes un­der con­sid­er­a­tion would rep­res­ent a near com­plete aban­don­ment of ba­sic im­mig­ra­tion en­force­ment and dis­card the rule of law and the no­tion that the United States has en­force­able bor­ders.”

The Re­pub­lic­ans also cri­ti­cize Obama for dir­ect­ing pre­vi­ous changes, such as pro­sec­utori­al dis­cre­tion and al­low­ing the de­fer­ral of de­port­a­tion pro­ceed­ings for so-called dream­ers. “Your ac­tions demon­strate an as­ton­ish­ing dis­reg­ard for the Con­sti­tu­tion, the rule of law, and the rights of Amer­ic­an cit­izens and leg­al res­id­ents,” they write.

Strong ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion on de­port­a­tion policy could eas­ily be in­ter­preted as “com­pletely writ­ing off im­mig­ra­tion re­form un­til 2016,” Theresa Car­din­al Brown, the im­mig­ra­tion-policy dir­ect­or at the Bi­par­tis­an Policy Cen­ter, pre­vi­ously told me. But mod­est ac­tion — com­bined with few le­gis­lat­ive cal­en­dar days left in this midterm elec­tion year and sharp rhet­or­ic about pres­id­en­tial over­reach — means the like­li­hood that re­form will hap­pen this year is pretty low. Hav­ing the two sides agree on how a phone call went is even a tall or­der when dis­cuss­ing im­mig­ra­tion.

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