President Obama this week tried to give House Republicans another chance to move immigration reform by delaying announcing any changes to deportation policy until after the summer.
But listen to what they’re saying, and it’s clear that top Republican lawmakers aren’t eager to take him up on the offer.
The divide over immigration reform was most clearly on display Thursday on Capitol Hill. Immigrants who either faced deportation or have seen their relatives deported shared heart-wrenching stories before the Congressional Progressive Caucus in an effort to advocate for immigration reform.
Just one floor below that hearing in the Rayburn Office Building, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee grilled Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, charging that the administration is already flouting the law when it comes to immigration enforcement, and can’t be trusted with new immigration policy.
Johnson, the official tasked by Obama with reviewing the administration’s approach to deportations to make them more “humane,” did confirm that he would delay announcing the results of his review, which is still ongoing.
To House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, however, even delaying the results of such a review doesn’t change the equation around immigration reform. “When the president says he’s going to set a time limit and then consider taking actions himself, which many of us read to be again as the president repeating, ‘I’ve got a pen and a cell phone and if you don’t act, I will,’ then that makes doing immigration reform harder, not easier,” Goodlatte said.
The delay of that review was met with a mixed response; Hill Democratic leadership and some pro-reform groups have likewise cautioned the Obama administration from taking executive action, because they view the work period before the August recess as the last window of opportunity for the House to pass reform. They want to give Republicans all the space possible to make it happen.
But many advocates also decried the delay, saying there is no time to waste. They charge that Obama has deported record numbers, and that without action those deportations will just continue. (Goodlatte, for his part, said those record numbers “simply rely on smoke and mirrors.”) Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a leader for reform in the House pushing for executive action, told Johnson Thursday that he is “disappointed” and “sad” about the delay.
Then, Gutierrez turned to Republicans to say, “It’s a pretty grand gesture on the part of the president of the United States, it’s a pretty grand gesture on his part to say ‘no’ to me … and to say ‘no’ to millions of people who support him, voted for him, cherish him, love him, and have protected him — for him to say ‘no’ to us, because he wants to say ‘yes’ to you. Because he wants to reach an agreement with you.”
Johnson also provided clues as to what the results of his review will entail, including how to best prioritize who should be deported, with a focus on national security, public safety, border security.
Johnson said he wants a “fresh start” to the controversial Secure Communities program, in which local law-enforcement officials share with federal immigration officials the fingerprints of those booked in local jails. Some cities and states have opted out of the program, which critics say encourages racial profiling and discourages immigrants from cooperating with the police.
He also endorsed the principles of the program, saying, “I do not believe we should scrap Secure Communities. I believe, given the reality and where we are in this country, we need a fresh start.”
Goodlatte and other Republicans also blasted the administration over the DHS’s last year releasing of about 36,000 immigrants convicted of crimes, including some who had homicide and sexual-assault convictions.
Johnson pledged to the panel that he is reviewing the release of such immigrants, some of whom have “pretty serious criminal convictions.”
That’s one issue that has certainly galvanized House Republicans. In fact, an amendment that gives the Justice Department $5 million to investigate the release of criminals from immigration detention sponsored by an immigration hard-liner, Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa, passed the House on Thursday.
While advocates clamor for a vote on full immigration reform, that King amendment is one of the few immigration-related bills that actually made it to the House floor this year.
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