“We’ve done some extremely good things, especially as it relates to the ‘dreamers’ to make sure they are not taken away in the middle of the night,” Reid said. “There’s a lot more that can be done. There’s more the president is going to do administratively, and that should happen fairly quickly.”
Durbin and Gutierrez have been among the leading voices in Congress on immigration issues and the “go-to” offices to help kids facing deportation. Both have pushed the DREAM Act, which passed the House in 2010, but came up short in the Senate.
Durbin said that he is “in frequent contact” with the White House as they seek to better implement the roughly year-old policy giving prosecutorial discretion to ICE and to Customs and Border Protection agents.
The idea was to target illegal immigrants with criminal records rather than going after people who are not considered threats to their communities or the nation.
With immigration legislation unlikely to pass the divided Congress, the policy was also developed to help kids eligible for the DREAM Act. It came in response to a letter from 22 Senators, including Durbin.
A senior administration official said the policy is meant not for political gain but because Obama believes it’s the right thing to do in the absence of Congressional action.
In a speech last week, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Celia Munoz said, “The simple fact is that Republicans, including those who believe in this issue, have abandoned immigration reform and the DREAM Act. And until they find a way back to the conversation, immigration reform will remain stalled.”
But deportations of otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants have continued, immigration groups and Democrats have said.
“When it was first announced, many of us were really pleased and thought this would be an enlightened approach to the very difficult issue of immigration enforcement,” Sharry said. “A year later, many of us are extremely disappointed with the implementation of this policy.”
Nearly 400,000 individuals were removed from the country in fiscal 2011, which ended Sept. 30, according to ICE. That is the largest number in the agency’s history.
Gutierrez said he was in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday on behalf of Gabino Sanchez, who is facing deportation because local police have repeatedly issued him tickets for driving without a license during the past decade or so.
“Fourteen years old when he came here, two American citizen children, no criminal record, but they don’t use discretion,” Gutierrez said. “It seems like they are walking away from the letter and the spirit” of the policy.
There have also been charges from immigrant rights groups that ICE has even abused illegal immigrants.
At a hearing last October, Durbin asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about “troubling reports that there are ICE and CBP field offices that have announced that that these new deportation priorities do not apply to them.”
Napolitano said, “If there are some, I would like to know about it. I have personally ... spoken with the heads of the ICE [Enforcement and Removal Operations] across the country and the heads of the [ICE Office of the Principal Legal Advisor] across the country, which are the regional counsel; my understanding is that they are very excited about having priorities, that the priorities are the right ones.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.