WASHINGTON — New momentum in Congress for a broad overhaul of border-control laws has prompted White House allies to demand that President Barack Obama halt deportations of millions of immigrants, many of whom would be allowed to remain in the country under a legislative deal.
The advocates, including the AFL-CIO and pro-immigration groups, argue that Obama should use his executive authority to expand a 2012 decision that halted deportations of young people brought to the United States illegally by their parents. The administration's aggressive approach to enforcement — which has resulted in nearly 2 million deportations during Obama's tenure — makes little sense at a time when Congress could be on the verge of providing legal relief, advocates say.
The push places the White House in a difficult political position as it attempts to negotiate with a House Republican caucus sharply divided on immigration. Leading conservatives said over the weekend that the chief impediment to a deal is their distrust that Obama would enforce new border-security provisions if a large portion of the nation's 11.7 million immigrants in the country illegally are granted legal status.
The White House has consistently said that Obama cannot legally expand the effort — known as the deferred action program — and some advisers fear that doing so would expose the president to more Republican criticism.
Administration officials also say Obama must enforce the law on deportations. This spring, the Obama administration will surpass 2 million deportations — more people than the George W. Bush administration removed from the country in eight years, in part because Congress boosted border control resources in the mid 2000s.
But immigration advocates argued that the pending legislation in Congress lends new urgency to the matter.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an interview last week that the White House would improve its bargaining position with House Republicans if Obama unilaterally suspended deportations. Millions of undocumented immigrants would be allowed to join the public debate, Trumka said, putting more pressure on a party struggling to broaden its appeal with Latinos and Asian Americans.
"If I were president, I would have said the following: 'It's a broken system. Except for violent criminals, no more deportations until you help me fix a broken system,' " Trumka said.