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11:06 am
Fri March 14, 2014

After Record Deportations, Obama May Turn To More 'Humane' Options

Originally published on Fri March 14, 2014 1:33 pm

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THING CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. We begin with the week in politics and an announcement from the White House about immigration policy. The Obama administration has deported a record number of illegal immigrants, more than any previous administration, but now, the president says he's considering more humane options. As NPR's Scott Horsley tells us, that's likely to cheer immigration activists and anger some congressional Republicans.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The White House said the only way to fix what it calls the country's broken immigration system is with comprehensive legislation. But while the Senate has passed a bipartisan bill, there's no sign of movement in the Republican-controlled House, so White House spokesman Jay Carney says the Homeland Security secretary, Jay Johnson, will look for steps the administration can take on its own.

JAY CARNEY: What the president has asked Secretary Johnson to do is to insure 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.

HORSLEY: Nearly two million illegal immigrants have been expelled from the country on Obama's watch and the president's been under mounting pressure from immigration activists to dial that back.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

HORSLEY: Last fall, the president told hecklers in San Francisco he'll keep working for a legislative fix, but said he's powerless to halt the deportations on his own.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we're also a nation of laws. That's part of our tradition.

HORSLEY: But in a meeting with Latino lawmakers yesterday, the president showed a newfound willingness to adjust. Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez who heads an immigration taskforce says it's clear that pleas from the community got through.

REPRESENTATIVE LUIS GUTIERREZ: Look, the president said there was nothing he could do about it. Yesterday, he says we're looking at options. I think that's a step in the right direction.

HORSLEY: It's not the first time Obama's taken such a step. In 2012, the administration temporarily stopped deporting young people who had been brought to the country illegally as children. Gutierrez says the president could go further, for instance by allowing the parents of those young people to remain in the country and by granting hardship waivers to other illegal immigrants.

Congressional Republicans have already criticized Obama for selective enforcement of immigration laws and a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner warns any further changes by the White House would make it even harder to push an immigration overhaul through Congress. Gutierrez says immigration activists will continue to put pressure on Boehner and his fellow Republicans. They'll also keep the heat on Democrats whose political fortunes depend on a strong Latino turnout in November.

GUTIERREZ: You will see the base looking at Democrats and looking at their allies and saying you can do more.

HORSLEY: Gutierrez plans to meet with administration officials to discuss possible enforcement changes soon after lawmakers return from their spring break. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.