President Obama on Thursday ordered his administration to review its immigration policy to determine ways to make it more humane, a response to mounting pressure from advocates to stem deportations of illegal immigrants.
The move came after Obama met at the White House with three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which has been drafting a letter to the president expressing concerns about the administration's deportation policy.
Obama "emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system," the White House said in a statement after the president's meeting with Democratic Reps. Ruben Hinojosa (Tex.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Luis Gutierrez (Ill.).
Obama has said repeatedly that he is powerless to expand a decision in 2012 to suspend the deportations of hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the country illegally by their parents. But the congressmen are among a growing number of lawmakers and advocacy groups that are calling on the president to use his executive authority to do more to relieve pressure on the nation's more than 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The Obama administration has deported nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants, according to figures from the Department of Homeland Security. In the announcement, the White House said the president asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to take an "inventory" of immigration enforcement policies, though no specifics were included about what changes might be made.
The AFL-CIO and the National Council of La Raza, along with influential Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), are among those who have joined the outcry in recent weeks.
“It is clear that the pleas from the community got through to the president," Gutierrez said in a statement. "The CHC will work with him to keep families together. The president clearly expressed the heartbreak he feels because of the devastating effect that deportations have on families."
An administration aide said Obama would meet with advocates Friday at the White House to discuss the issue. But some groups reacted skeptically to the announcement.
"Relief delayed is relief denied," said Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which has filed a rule-making petition with the Homeland Security Department seeking changes to deportation policies. "The president has no excuse to continue his unjust deportation policy, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus should not delay joining what is now a consensus position that the president can and should suspend deportations."
The White House said Obama urged lawmakers to continue to press Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
"Actions speak louder than press releases," the Dream Action Coalition said in a statement. "We hope the president’s words are genuine and lead to concrete enforcement reform."