U.S. Latino groups expect relief after meeting with 'deporter in chief'
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Latino groups and immigration advocates said on Friday they expect President Barack Obama to ease back from record deportations of people living illegally in the United States after discussing their concerns with him for almost two hours.
Obama announced late on Thursday that he had decided to review deportation practices to seek a more "humane" way to enforce immigration laws.
His surprise decision came after months of pressure from Latino groups, who are frustrated with stalled efforts to overhaul immigration laws to provide a path to citizenship for about 11 million people living illegally in the United States.
More than a dozen immigration advocates met with Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and other top White House officials.
The group included Janet Murguia, head of the National Council of La Raza. Earlier this month, she called Obama, who is known as the commander in chief, the "deporter in chief" in a speech.
Murguia told reporters her "tough words" were warranted because "our community is in crisis" with families being separated through deportations.
"He has asked us to work directly with Secretary Jeh Johnson to really find more humane ways to be able to address the situation, and to reduce those deportations wherever we can," Murguia said. The first meeting will take place next week.
"Our hope and expectation is that with that would come some reduction in the level of deportations," she said.
In 2012, Obama had Homeland Security temporarily halt deportations of undocumented children who were brought to the United States by their parents.
Immigration law experts have said Obama could use his executive authority to also stop deporting parents of those children to keep families together.
But until this week, Obama had resisted calls to use his authority to slow down on the pace of other deportations, saying that he needed to uphold the law, and wanted to reform laws working with Congress.
Obama has made immigration reform one of his top priorities even as his administration has aggressively enforced existing laws, deporting about 2 million people since he took office.
The Democratic-controlled Senate has passed an immigration bill, but efforts to overhaul laws have stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
At a White House event honoring visiting Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny on Friday, President Barack Obama spoke about wanting to "fix our broken immigration system."
"Under today's laws, many of your parents and grandparents may not have made it here," Obama told an audience filled with Irish-Americans.
"There's no reason why we can't do for this generation of immigrants what was done for a previous generation, to give them that chance," Obama added.
Immigration advocates and Hispanic lawmakers who met with Obama said that they plan to keep up the pressure on Republicans to pass the bill. Latinos have become a key voting bloc, and could play an important role in upcoming midterm elections in November.
Xavier Becerra, a member of the House Democratic leadership and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, met Thursday night with Obama.
He said Obama said he understands the "heartbreak" felt by families who are separated by deportations.
Becerra said that when the House returns from next week's recess, Hispanic Caucus members will meet with Johnson to talk about possible executive actions that could be taken.
"The president said, 'Let's see what we can do within the confines of the law,'" Becerra told reporters.
"The president made it clear. He is ready to take a look at how we continue to make this work better."