U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson gave a glimpse of potential changes to the Obama administration’s controversial deportation approach, saying that keeping families together in the United States is critical.
Appearing on ABC News Sunday, Johnson said an administration announcement on changes in immigration enforcement would be made “pretty soon.”
He said that immigration enforcement would need to adhere to “American values,” and noted: “One of those American values is respect for human dignity … [and] one of those American values is respect for the sanctity of the family unit.”
Recently, the Associated Press quoted unnamed sources as saying that Johnson was reviewing the way that the United States undertakes deportations, and that he was considering not deporting people who were not a threat to public safety or national security.
Frustration among people who want more lenient immigration policies increasingly has shifted toward President Obama, during whose tenure deportations have reached a record 2 million.
That is more than the number of people who have been deported under any other president.
Johnson, who was sworn in as the fourth Homeland Security secretary late last year, made the promise in a closed-door meeting with Latino members of Congress who've been pressuring the administration to scale back the deportations.
Activists contend many people deported pose no threat, and that families are being ripped apart because of the broken immigration system.
They are demanding an end to deportations of people who have civil violations, as opposed to serious criminal ones, and also want a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria.
But those who favor stricter immigration enforcement say that the United States should not give breaks to people who are here illegally because it would be rewarding those who flouted U.S. laws.
A bipartisan comprehensive immigration law passed in the Senate in June, but the effort stalled in the House, where many Republicans – who hold a majority in that chamber – said they would not rubber-stamp the measure because it includes giving amnesty to undocumented immigrants.
“We’re still in the midst of the review,” of the possible changes to immigration enforcement, Johnson told ABC. “And I’m consulting a wide network of people. But I expect to have something pretty soon.”
Johnson said he is making sure to run ideas for changes by officials of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE “in a way that I’m not sure they’ve been consulted in the past.”
“I’ve consulted ICE leadership on what our priorities should be, how we could realign them, potentially,” Johnson said. “I am looking for ways to more effectively enforce and administer our immigration laws. I believe there is room for improvement, and hopefully we’ll get to a better place.”
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who met in recent weeks with Obama to demand an end to the deportation of undocumented immigrants who did not pose a threat to public safety, submitted recommendations to Johnson regarding overhauling the removal process.
With comprehensive immigration legislation stalled in the House, Obama announced last month that Johnson would be conducting a review to see if deportation practices can be more humane.
A New York Times story noted that since the beginning of Obama’s tenure, in 2008, two-thirds of the nearly 2 million people who have been deported had no criminal record or had committed minor offenses, such as traffic violations.
One out of five, or about 394,000, had committed serious crimes, the Times found.
“I have to be honest, I don’t understand those who say we are not enforcing the law,” Johnson told “This Week.” “We are enforcing the law every day… There are thousands of people who are convicted criminals and others who are removed from this country [each day].”
Activists contend many people deported pose no threat.
Republican senators, meanwhile, are closely watching developments in the deportation review.
More than 20 senators have sent President Obama a letter warning “changes under consideration would represent a near complete abandonment of basic immigration enforcement.”
“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 federal law enforcement authorities,” the letter said.