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Republican senators slam Obama for ordering review of deportation program

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., center, accompanied by fellow GOP lawmakers, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 25, 2014, following a GOP caucus lunch. (AP)

Twenty-two Republican senators sent a letter to President Obama on Thursday accusing his administration of displaying "an astonishing disregard for the Constitution" by considering administrative changes to the nation's deportations policy.  

In a letter to the president, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, and 21 of his colleagues said that changes under consideration would amount to "near complete abandonment of basic immigration enforcement." 

"Your actions demonstrate an astonishing disregard for the Constitution, the rule of law, and the rights of American citizens and legal residents," read the letter signed by McConnell and other Republicans, including Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

The Associated Press reported this week that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who is conducting a review ordered by Obama on how to make the administration's policy on deportations more humane, is weighing limiting removals of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who don't have serious criminal records. 

The change, if adopted, could shield tens of thousands of immigrants now removed each year solely because they committed repeat immigration violations, such as re-entering the country illegally after having been deported, failing to comply with a deportation order or missing an immigration court date.

With comprehensive immigration legislation stalled in the GOP-led House 10 months after Senate passage, Obama is under intense pressure from immigrant advocates to act on his own to curb deportations and allow some of the 11.5 million immigrants in the country illegally to stay here. 

The move would fall short of the sweeping changes sought by activists who want Obama to expand a two-year-old program that grants work permits to certain immigrants brought here illegally as children to include other groups, such as the parents of any children born in the U.S. 

Thursday's letter, circulated by the Senate Judiciary Committee's top Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, underscores the political risk in an election year as Republicans seize on the review as the latest example of presidential overreach.

"Our entire constitutional system is threatened when the executive branch suspends the law at its whim and our nation's sovereignty is imperiled when the commander in chief refuses to defend the integrity of its borders," the senators wrote. 

The senators complained that the administration's existing policies. Republicans already accuse Obama's administration of subverting the law through previous moves to give "prosecutorial discretion" to immigration agents.

"As a result of your policies, individuals here illegally who do not meet administration “priorities” are not only largely exempt from the law, but are released even if they come into contact with feder al law enforcement authorities," the letter said.

In a statement, Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard didn't respond to the senators' complaints but said, "The secretary has undergone a very rigorous and inclusive process to best inform the review."

Many activists want sweeping action by Obama to give legal certainty and work permits to millions more immigrants, like he did for those who arrived illegally as children and attended school or served in the military.

But a senior administration official told The Wall Street Journal that no decisions have been made and that immigration activists are engaged in “extreme wishful thinking” about what they hope the president will decide to do.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.