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Actually, There is Plenty of Room for President Obama to Maneuver on Deportations

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The Washington Post editorialized about immigration reform this weekend:

IN BLOCKING immigration reform in the House of Representatives, Republicans have frozen in place a system that much of the nation, and many in the GOP, regard as an exemplar of American dysfunction. Hence the irony that so many Republicans stand ready to rise up in fury should President Obama deviate from enforcing that system to the letter of the law.

President Obama has ordered what he called a review of deportations, which have risen to record levels under his administration. Yet he appears to be stuck, thanks largely to Republican intransigence and hypocrisy. On the one hand, GOP leaders in the House acknowledge the impossibility of deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, most of whom have been here for many years and are woven into the United States’ workforce and communities. On the other hand, they are unwilling to embrace a solution — even the one approved by the Senate with bipartisan support — lest they risk a rupture with the party base.

Yep. The Republicans have done everything possible to block real reform. But, the President does not have to be stuck. He has the power to act.

Advocates of reform, including Hispanic groups that form a growing portion of Mr. Obama’s base, insist that he intervene to ease deportations. In response to that pressure, the president ordered his policy review. Yet his room for maneuver is scant. Of the 369,000 immigrants who were deported in the fiscal year ending last fall, all but 23,000 either had criminal records or were arrested near the border as they attempted to enter the country illegally. About 13,000 more were repeat immigration offenders or fugitives from immigration courts. Fewer than 11,000 had clean records.

Actually, there room for maneuver is much more than scant. The Administration classifies the numbers in a way that makes it sound like they are going after bad guys, when the reality is that they are not. Many of those arrested near the border were trying to re-enter to join their families who are already in the United States. And, many immigrants with “criminal records” have been convicted of crimes like broken tail lights and driving without a license, or immigration offenses. As Pew reported last week, there has been an increased criminalization of immigrants. We saw on display last week in federal court in Pennsylvania with the case of Alfredo Ramos, who was indicted for returning to reunite with his family. The Post editorial addressed this issue in the next paragraph while acknowledging the human cost:

Granted, many deportees with criminal records are convicted of misdemeanors (about 31,000 last year). In plenty of instances, those offenses are pretexts cooked up by local law enforcement to hound unauthorized immigrants — day laborers accused of loitering, for example. Beyond the deportation statistics are uncountable numbers of human tragedies —fathers and mothers with long, solid work records in this country who are uprooted, expelled and separated from their children and families, among whom are many U.S. citizens.

The President can — and should — act to stop the out-of-control deportation machine. Sure, the Republicans will “rise up in fury.” Let them.