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Obama declines to alter deportation policies in meeting with immigration advocates

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO President, is surrounded by other labor and immigration leaders as he speaks to reporters outside the White House after meeting with President Obama about immigration reform. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Immigration advocates asked President Obama on Tuesday to reconsider his administration's deportation policies that have resulted in a record number of undocumented migrants being removed from the United States, but the president declined to make adjustments as he ramps up his public push for overhauling immigration laws, the advocates said.

Obama met with a group of 16 progressive and labor leaders for about an hour at the White House, where some of the advocates pressed him to find new ways to ease off enforcement of otherwise law-abiding undocumented workers who are in the country illegally. The Obama administration deported nearly 410,000 people last year, a record.

Though Obama has instructed the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division to focus its resources on apprehending and deporting felons and multiple offenders, advocates say that ICE and the Department of Homeland Security continue to also crack down on undocumented workers who have not committed other violations, often breaking up families in the process. Obama also announced last summer that he would stop deportations of illegal immigrants brought to the country as children provided they have not committed other crimes.

Obama told the advocates Tuesday that "there may be some gaps in implementation of  the polices," according to one advocate who participated in the meeting. But the president emphasized that he is focused on "getting reformed passed, and not easing up on enforcement."

Republicans, and some Democrats, would probably raise concerns about Obama's immigration plans if the administration were to ease up on deportations during the debate over comprehensive reform, the advocate said.

"The goal is getting immigration reform passed, and that solves the problem — not starting a whole controversy as to whether he's easing up," this person said. "He made a compelling case that while we don't like it and see the effects of overzealous enforcement every day, he's made very clear that, 'I don't want any problems [with comprehensive reform] and I'm not backing off.' "