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In our opinion: Obama's immigration enforcement too harsh

Published: Tuesday, March 11 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Latino advocacy groups who have criticized the unprecedented rate of immigrant deportations under the Obama Administration are justified in referring to the policy as irrational and inhumane.

Charles Dharapak, AP

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Latino advocacy groups who have criticized the unprecedented rate of immigrant deportations under the Obama Administration are justified in referring to the policy as irrational and inhumane. That the administration should adopt such an aggressive posture while simultaneously calling for a compassionate approach to immigration reform seems disingenuous and cynical.

More than 2 million deportations have occurred during the president’s tenure — more than doubling the rate of deportation under the previous two administrations. President Obama has defended the spate of deportations, saying the failure of Congress to approve a package of comprehensive reform has left him no choice but to enforce the current law.

But his critics are rightly concerned the president’s rationale is merely a measure of political gamesmanship. The escalation of deportation orders may be a show for House Republicans who have balked at passing a comprehensive reform package because they are wary of the administration’s commitment to enforcement.

Or, the aggressive posture could be a way of raising the stakes in the debate by mobilizing those on the side of a more tempered approach to dealing with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.

Either way, the current situation is not reflective of the kind of leadership needed on this issue at the presidential level. Regardless of what point the administration may be trying to make, its critics are correct in pointing out the policy carries a human toll. As Janet Murguia, head of the National Council of La Raza, points out, it is a policy that “leaves behind a wake of devastation for families across America.”

The administration has authorized immigration authorities to use “prosecutorial discretion” and avoid applying deportation procedures against those who were brought here as children. Advocacy groups have petitioned the White House to expand that discretion to also shield adults with no criminal records.

We hesitate to give the president much latitude for “prosecutorial discretion,” given his propensity to act without congressional approval. However, the request seems reasonable given the limited resources of immigration authorities, who ought to focus their energies on criminal elements. What is not reasonable is a policy that speaks to a discrete application of a law while that law is in fact being applied more aggressively than at any other time in recent history.

Continuing on the current path is difficult to justify, even by those who would champion a zero-tolerance approach to illegal immigration. Even at the high rate of deportation, it would take at least 50 years for all undocumented aliens currently in the U.S. to be sent back to their countries of origin.

That is not practical, or desirable. We have long supported the tenets of the Utah Compact, a statement of principles agreed to by a wide array of local business, law enforcement and religious groups. It calls for enforcement policies that focus on illegal behavior, not violations of civil codes, and champions a humane and inclusive approach to immigrants and their families.

The administration’s current policies do not meet those standards. What is needed at the executive level is a coherent policy that anticipates — and advocates — the timely passage of meaningful and measured reform.

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