Just a day after the release of a report showing his administration has set free hundreds of illegal immigrants convicted of murder and other serious crimes, President Obama told law enforcement groups Tuesday that an immigration bill with amnesty provisions would make America safer.
During a meeting at the White House, Mr. Obama said fixing the nation’s immigration system and allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens is “the right thing to do for safety and security in communities all across America.”
“It would allow law enforcement to focus on its primary mission, which is keeping our communities safe,” Mr. Obama said.
But a report on Monday showed that the Obama administration in 2013 released tens of thousands of criminals awaiting possible deportation, including some accused of murder, sexual assault, arson and kidnapping. A total of 36,007 illegal immigrants who committed nearly 88,000 crimes combined were freed last year while being processed for deportation, according to the report from the Center of Immigration Studies.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency gathered the statistics in response to a congressional inquiry. Besides violent criminals, ICE released 16,000 illegal immigrants convicted of driving under the influence. The report also showed that ICE released nearly 2,700 illegal immigrants convicted of assault, 1,300 convicted for domestic violence, and nearly 1,300 convicted for battery.
“These figures call into question President Obama’s request to Congress for permission to reduce immigration detention capacity by 10 percent in favor of permission to make wider use of experimental alternatives to detention,” the report said.
Mr. Obama is seeking the support of law enforcement agencies such as the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Sheriffs’ Association in a final push to persuade the Republican-led House to approve immigration reform. The president said there is a “narrow window” of time remaining before the midterm election campaigns dominate the political agenda.
“The immigration system that we have right now makes it harder, not easier, for law enforcement agencies to do their jobs,” Mr. Obama said. “It makes it harder for law enforcement to know when dangerous people cross our borders. And it makes it harder for law enforcement to do their jobs when large segments of the community are afraid to report crimes or serve as witnesses because they fear the consequences for themselves or their families.”
The president said most illegal immigrants “are not making trouble.”
“Most of them are not causing crimes,” he said.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, has said he wants to coax GOP lawmakers into approving a deal this year on immigration, although some conservatives oppose the so-called amnesty provisions and others say they distrust Mr. Obama’s willingness to carry out all of the reforms.
An aide to Mr. Boehner said Tuesday the administration needs to show good faith about enforcing current immigration laws before the system can be reformed.
“We have a broken immigration system, but it is impossible to make progress until the American people — and their elected representatives — have faith that the president himself will actually enforce the law as written,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
The president said House Republicans will be influenced on immigration when they hear from “unexpected voices” such as the law enforcement officials.
“To their credit, I think Speaker Boehner and some of the other leaders there do believe that immigration reform is the right thing, but they’ve got to have a political space that allows them to go ahead and get it through their caucus and get it done,” Mr. Obama said.
The president said he’s “not hell-bent” on getting every provision of the bipartisan Senate bill that passed in June 2013, but said the legislation must include “core principles” such as addressing companies that are not “doing the right thing by workers.”
“We’ve got to have stronger border security,” Mr. Obama said. “And we’ve got to make sure that there’s a way for people to earn some pathway to citizenship.”