- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A series of new administration memos have effectively created a backdoor amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, Senate Republicans charged Tuesday in a letter demanding that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano explain the 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 Senate committee that oversees immigration, said it appears that the administration is instead trying to carve out categories of illegal immigrants that won’t be deported at all.

Indeed, the latest statistics show that 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.

Deporting illegal immigrants is the third leg of immigration enforcement, along with border security and targeting businesses that hire illegal immigrants.

But it’s also the most contentious. Immigrant rights groups argue that deportations often separate families and can lead to a climate of fear in immigrant communities.

Many of those advocates have called for President Obama 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 rejected the idea of halting all deportations, saying in his major immigration speech this year that such a policy “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.

The administration has, though, refocused its efforts on immigrants with criminal records, arguing in recent memos that such enforcement is a better use of limited resources. Earlier this year, a draft memo, reported by The Washington Times, showed administration officials had explored whether it was possible to use their powers to grant parole to illegal immigrants or to delay deportations.

Matt Chandler, a spokesman for Ms. Napolitano, said Tuesday that the administration had ruled out those options.

He said the department will respond directly to the senators who wrote the letter, but that the deportation statistics for fiscal years 2009 and 2010 show 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 the letter, Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas, wrote to 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 had been received.

Among the policies that concern the senators 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 that 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.

A study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that the number of illegal immigrants in the country dropped by about 1 million from March 2007 to March 2009, and analysts said the change likely is a result of the sluggish economy and stepped-up enforcement at the end of the Bush administration.

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