A series of new internal rules has effectively created a possible backdoor amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, Senate Republicans charged on Tuesday in a letter demanding that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano explain the new policies.
Ms. Napolitano has said her department is trying to focus resources on illegal immigrants with long criminal records, but the letter, signed by all seven Republicans on the committee that oversees immigration, said it appears the administration instead is trying to carve out categories of illegal immigrants that won't be deported at all.
Indeed, the latest statistics show deportations are, in fact, down slightly compared with the similar period last year. The administration has dramatically stepped up removals of convicted criminal immigrants, deporting 51,981 more than last year, an increase of 42 percent. But deportation of other immigrants is down even more, dropping by 53,934 through August.
"It is increasingly clear that this administration is following the spirit of these proposals by dramatically narrowing its efforts to remove whole classes of illegal immigrants," the senators said.
President Obama has faced pressure from immigrant-rights groups who have called for him to halt all deportations and instead work on a bill to legalize most illegal immigrants.
Mr. Obama has called for Congress to act on legislation but has rejected the idea of halting all deportations, saying in his major immigration speech earlier this year that that "would be both unwise and unfair."
"It would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no repercussions for such a decision. And this could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration. And it would also ignore the millions of people around the world who are waiting in line to come here legally," he said.
But the administration has refocused its efforts to concentrate on immigrants with criminal records, arguing that's a better use of limited resources. And they point to the dramatic increase in deportations of immigrants with criminal records as evidence they've succeeded.
Matt Chandler, a spokesman for Ms. Napolitano, said the department will respond directly to the senators, but he said officials have ruled out using their administrative powers to grant parole or defer deportations for broad swaths of immigrants.
Mr. Chandler also said the figures showing increased removals of criminal immigrants indicate the department is serious about enforcement.
"To be clear, we are not engaged in a 'backdoor' amnesty and are on pace to place more people in immigration proceedings this year than ever before," he said.
Two of the lawmakers who signed this letter, Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas, already wrote Ms. Napolitano more than two weeks ago to ask about some of the memos that appeared to curtail deportations. At the time, the department said it would respond directly to the lawmakers, but the senators said no answer has been received.
Among the policies the senators are concerned about are memos that say U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel should focus on immigrants who have been charged with or convicted of committing serious crimes, rather than traffic offenses. Also, news reports have indicated prosecutors are dropping proceedings against some illegal immigrants because they eventually could attain legal status under bills that have been introduced, but not passed, in Congress.
The Republican lawmakers said the policies could affect "millions" of illegal immigrants.
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