In an open letter, a group of nearly two dozen Republican senators called President Obama out for what they said was his failure to enforce the nation's immigration laws and for preparing to act unilaterally to limit deportations of illegal immigrants.
Immigration reform advocates, like the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, have been lobbying Mr. Obama to make a bold move — including halting deportations — as a way to spur House Republicans to act on stalled legislation in Congress.
Earlier this week, The Associated Press reported that the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was considering a policy change that would effectively allow tens of thousands of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally but not suspected of a serious crime to remain in the country. Mr. Johnson was said to be acting at Mr. Obama's request.
The Republican letter, organized by Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned the president against acting without approval from Congress on such a sensitive issue.
"According to reports, the changes under consideration would represent a near complete abandonment of basic immigration enforcement and discard the rule of law and the notion that the United States has enforceable borders," said the letter, which was made public Thursday.
According to the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement's own figures, last year nearly all individuals removed from the United States were convicted criminals, or had recently crossed the border, the senators said. The GOP signers included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Roy Blunt of Missouri, the fifth-ranking Senate Republican.
The Republican senators — including some of the caucus's most conservative members — said Mr. Obama had been "incrementally nullifying immigration enforcement" since he took office in 2009, to the point "that unless individuals in the country illegally are apprehended, tried and convicted for a felony or other serious offense, they are free to live and work in the country."
Immigration reform is teetering in the House of Representatives because many Republicans say they don't trust the president to enforce current immigration law and secure the border. The Senate Republicans pointed this out saying: "Clearly the urgent task facing your administration is to improve immigration enforcement, not to look for new ways to weaken it."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, told The Washington Times in an interview earlier this week that no reform should take place until the borders were secure and immigration laws were working. Then and only then would the GOP-dominated House consider what to do with the 12 million undocumented workers living in this country illegally.
Many Democrats want to include an immediate path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and are also pressing for a broad reprieve from deportations for those in the country illegally.
The House is balking at the comprehensive immigration package approved by the Senate in June 2013 on a 68-32 vote. Mr. Goodlatte and other House GOP leaders say they prefer to pass smaller, more targeted immigration measures as opposed to the more sweeping Senate approach.
Notably absent from the list of those who signed Thursday's letter were the four Republican senators — including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — who were among the primary sponsors of the Senate bill. Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, also didn't sign the letter. Mr. Corker helped amend the Senate's immigration bill to include increased border security to help it secure passage.
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