- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2014

President Obama on Thursday tweeted that he is the “champion in chief for comprehensive immigration reform” — a move activists saw as an admission that he’s suffering political damage from his administration’s record-setting level of deportations.

Mr. Obama has been under fire for years over the Homeland Security Department’s informal quota of trying to deport about 400,000 immigrants every year. Republican opponents accuse him of inflating the numbers, while immigration rights advocates say the number is too high.

Those advocates have increasingly taken their anger out on Mr. Obama, arguing he has the authority to unilaterally halt most deportations even without a bill from Congress.

“His statement simply is not true,” said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “The good news is that he still has time to be a champion for immigrants, but his position on immigration will have to evolve — and very quickly — to earn that title.”

Mr. Obama finds himself buffeted by criticism from both sides — and that played out on Twitter after he posted his short message on his account from Obama for America, his campaign arm.

“Deporter in chief breaking millions of families,” tweeted back the DRM Action Coalition, which is an organization of young immigrants who gained tentative legal status under a presidential directive.

The president backed last year’s Senate bill, which cleared that chamber on a bipartisan 68-32 vote. But action has stalled in the House, where Republican leaders want to pass a legalization bill but their rank-and-file members have balked saying they don’t trust Mr. Obama to enforce the law and that their constituents aren’t clamoring for action on immigration.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are increasingly taking up the call to halt deportations, with several high-profile senators who helped write last year’s immigration bill saying this week that if Congress doesn’t pass it, Mr. Obama should act unilaterally.

Mr. Obama has tried to give the GOP some space to work on the issue, but that’s only increased the heat he’s taking from immigration advocates.

Those activists say he has unilateral authority to halt all deportations, using the same “prosecutorial discretion” he claimed in 2012 when he halted deportations for illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors, known as “Dreamers.”

Mr. Obama initially said he didn’t have authority to halt deportations for Dreamers, but reversed himself in the months ahead of the 2012 election. Now, the president says he doesn’t have authority to do an even broader halt — but the groups, pointing to their earlier experience with Dreamers, say they don’t believe him.

Even as he pushed House Republicans to pass a legalization bill, the GOP is setting up a vote on a rollback of the president’s authority.

On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would eliminate the public advocate within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for catching and deporting illegal immigrants in the interior of the U.S.

As part of a previous massive spending bill, Congress had directed Mr. Obama to shut down the office, with opponents saying it amounted to an advocate for illegal immigrants.

The administration changed the office name, but kept the employees in the office on the job. Republicans said that was an abuse of power, but Democrats said Mr. Obama met the letter of the law.

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