Obama Administration Opens Review Of Its Deportation Policy
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The Obama administration is reviewing its deportation policy. According to the president, it's an effort to conduct enforcement more humanely. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is leading the review, meeting with numerous groups, ranging from agricultural workers to religious leaders to members of Congress. Many organizations have been weighing in with ideas of how they'd like to ease the rules. Those rules led to some two million deportations under the Obama administration. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Greisa Martinez came to this country with her parents from Mexico when she was two months old. Her parents were undocumented. Her father was deported in 2008, she says, after he failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign in Carrollton, Texas. She says she's not seen him since.
GREISA MARTINEZ: My sister graduates this May 9th, and this is going to be the second college graduation that he misses. And one of my sisters is about to get married and he won't be able to walk her down the aisle.
NAYLOR: Martinez says both she and her mother are undocumented, and so the threat of deportation is very real.
MARTINEZ: This issue of deportations is one that hits home because I know the fear of thinking that my mom might be taken away, too.
NAYLOR: Martinez is a field organizer with United We Dream, one of the many groups that has reached out to Homeland Security Secretary Johnson, hoping to influence the administration's future policy on deportations. Martinez says among other things, her group wants the administration to broaden its deferred action program in which those brought to the U.S. as children are not sought out for deportation.
MARTINEZ: The ability that someone that receives that deferred action to be able to travel back to Mexico. So I could travel, go back and - to go see my dad. Or my mom could travel to go back and see my dad. And we could have the wedding in Mexico, right?
NAYLOR: United We Dream says the administration should implement policies that re-unify families that have been torn apart by the immigration system. A policy change advocated by the former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement would have a similar effect. John Sandweg thinks the agency should relax its policy on detaining and deporting undocumented people caught re-entering the nation, so-called repeat entries.
JOHN SANDWEG: What you find is there are large numbers of individuals who were previously deported, oftentimes years ago. They return because they have families and they've lived here in the United States continuously for several years.
NAYLOR: Sandweg says focusing on them diverts resources from other more serious threats such as removing violent criminals. The AFL-CIO has also weighed in. The labor federation's Kelly Fay Rodriguez says their top priority is affirmative relief with a work authorization. In other words, DHS would give some undocumented people legal permission to remain in the U.S. and to work here without fear of arrest.
KELLY FAY RODRIGUEZ: It's really hard to address it once you're in detention. You - it's much harder to get legal help, to get your family to help. Oftentimes, family have trouble finding even where people are detained. And so this affirmative relief will allow people protection before they're even put into the, you know, the criminal justice or sort of the detention system.
NAYLOR: The Senate approved a comprehensive immigration overhaul last June, but so far the House has not acted. Fay Rodriguez says the administration could make changes through an executive order and prosecutorial discretion without congressional authorization. She admits it's a big ask, but says it's justified.
RODRIGUEZ: We're in an unprecedented situation and a crisis that really deserves a strong response by the administration.
NAYLOR: Fay Rodriguez says the administration should also end programs such as Secure Communities that partner with local police and sheriff's departments to enforce immigration laws. What effect any of these recommendations will have on the administration is not clear. A senior official who asked not to be identified said Homeland Security Secretary Johnson is open for business and listening to all kinds of groups.
He's also been meeting with those within the government charged with implementing immigration policies, including Immigration and Customs, Customs and Border Protection, even the Coast Guard. Homeland Security says there's no timetable for completion of the review. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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