President Obama will no doubt face criticism for his decision last week to review the nation's deportation policy. But it's a correct step, and one made necessary by Republican refusal to even consider immigration reform at this point.
Following a meeting with congressional Hispanic leaders Thursday, the White House announced that Obama had ordered Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson “to do an inventory of the Department's current practices to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law.”
“The president emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system,” the White House said in a statement.
The announcement is deliberately vague, and comes after months of complaints from Hispanic leaders about the Obama administration's deportation policy. The president for months has said his hands were tied on any more changes to deportation policy, but Thursday's announcement appears to mark a course shift.
The United States has deported almost 2 million people in the five years since Obama took office, matching the Bush administration's total from eight years.
The focus from critics of the Obama administration has focused on deportations that separate families, especially those that separate children from their parents.
We're not talking about slowing deportations of undocumented immigrants who have committed violent or other serious crimes while in the country.
“It is clear that the pleas from the community got through to the president,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., one of the congressional leaders who met with Obama. “The (Congressional Hispanic Caucus) will work with him to keep families together. The president clearly expressed the heartbreak he feels because of the devastating effect that deportations have on families.”
Obama has taken steps before to review deportation policy, particularly in 2012 when he deferred deportations for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
It's unlikely the president will take another step so sweeping. But the administration is correct to review its policies to look for instances where deportation is not in the country's best interest. Deporting parents of minor children who are U.S. citizens isn't good for families, and it's not good for this nation. Of course, the preferred route is for Democrats and Republicans to work together on reforming an immigration system that virtually all observers say isn't working.
But that seems unlikely this year because of the mid-term elections. After those elections, we'll be told nothing can be done ahead of the 2016 vote.
So we're left with small, incremental steps such as reviewing and revising deportation policy.