President Barack Obama has ordered a review of U.S. deportation practices in an effort to make immigration enforcement more humane, the White House said Thursday.
In a meeting with Latino lawmakers, Obama said he was deeply concerned about the pain that families feel when they are separated because of a broken U.S. immigration system. He told the lawmakers that he is asking Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to perform an inventory of current practices "to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law," the White House said in a news release.
The announcement comes as immigrant rights activists, frustrated by a lack of progress on the issue in Congress, have been pressuring Obama to halt all deportations.
Under Obama, U.S. deportations have hit record highs, immigration advocates point out.
"For us, this president has been the deporter-in-chief," said former Obama ally Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic advocacy group in the United States.
She made the remark at an awards dinner earlier this month. "Any day now, this administration will reach the 2 million mark for deportations,” she added. “It is a staggering number that far outstrips any of his predecessors and leaves behind it a wake of devastation for families across America."
Obama has insisted that he does not have the power to unilaterally halt deportations, although he has previously moved to ease deportations for some children brought into the U.S. illegally.
The Senate, with strong bipartisan support, last June passed a comprehensive immigration bill that would create a pathway for citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally. It would also tighten border security and establish new visa and enforcement programs. The measure has languished in the House despite calls from Republican Party leaders, business groups, religious organizations and labor for lawmakers to act.
Taking part in the meeting Thursday were Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a prominent immigration advocate, and House Democratic Caucus Xavier Becerra of California also joined Obama in the Oval Office.
Immigrant rights activists have shifted their strategy and are redirecting efforts away from Congress and at Obama, demanding that he issue an executive order to end deportations until the immigration system is overhauled.
As part of their new strategy, activists are organizing a nationwide campaign that include actions such as hunger strikes and protests. A national campaign dubbed "Not One More Deportation," organized by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, is sponsoring events around the country to halt the deportations.
Meanwhile in Washington state at the Northwest Detention Center, several detainees launched a hunger strike Friday in protest of deportations and facility conditions.
On April 5, a day of action called “All Out in the Streets” will include additional hunger strikes and sit-ins outside the White House and across the country.
Reuters. Amel Ahmed contributed to this report.