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A Policy Pickle for Obama, Cabinet

On Immigration Front, White House Struggles

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Charlie Gonzalez said he’s pessimistic about getting immigration reform legislation through Congress.

Record deportations and immigration enforcement aren't what President Barack Obama's allies thought they were going to get when he took office nearly three years ago and tensions have continued to mount with a constituency the president desperately needs for his re-election.

Anger over the 1 million deportations during Obama's watch boiled over in recent weeks after White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Muñoz defended the administration's policies in a PBS interview, with some activists calling on her to resign.

A larger group of advocates then sent a letter defending Muñoz while still criticizing the White House's policies.

The administration itself seems keenly aware of the concerns, but there's no magic solution to its immigration dilemma.

With dreams for comprehensive immigration reform dashed and more modest measures like the DREAM Act blocked in Congress, the administration has looked for other ways to deliver for the Hispanic community and frustrated reform advocates, similar to the "we can't wait" campaign on jobs.

But anything short of declaring an end to deportations for nonviolent illegal immigrants might not be enough for some advocates.

Muñoz herself still seems warmly embraced by the administration's allies on Capitol Hill, even if there remains significant anger and frustration at the White House.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) said he sees Muñoz as an important advocate for the community inside the White House.

"To me, she is the same person that worked tirelessly when she was at National Council of La Raza," he said. "If you are unhappy with the administration, I think the president would tell you the buck does stop with him."

Gonzalez praised the administration's announcement last week detailing guidelines for prioritizing deportations, but he said Hispanic Members want more assurances that the guidelines will be enforced uniformly across the nation and that hundreds of thousands of low-priority immigrants won't be deported in the meantime.

The caucus is expected to meet soon with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to discuss the guidelines, he said.

Much of the conflict with the White House is that low-priority immigrants including people with U.S. citizen children and no criminal records continue to be deported by the thousands. Still, Gonzalez said, "Latinos have to appreciate the White House's dilemma. ... The president's going to be damned if he does and damned if he doesn't."

White House spokesman Luis Miranda said Obama "cannot change the laws by himself" and said the GOP has blocked reform and the DREAM Act. In the meantime, the administration isn't waiting around.

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