President Obama has faced significant pressure from immigrant groups to prioritize the deportation of immigrants to only those who are considered a danger to society. On Wednesday, he ordered Homeland Security Sec. Jeh Johnson to delay that review until Congress departed for its August recess to give time for a legislative solution.
But House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., threw any possibility of a Congressional fix into doubt, accusing the Department of Homeland Security of distorting its "record numbers" of deportations. He said the president's delay, rather than opening a door for Congress to act on passing immigration reform, made it more difficult for Congress to act.
"The end result of DHS's practices is that the American people have lost all confidence in this administration's willingness to enforce our current immigration laws or use any enhanced enforcement tools that Congress may give it," Goodlatte said. "This in turn has made it exceedingly difficult for Congress to fix our broken immigration system."
Goodlatte cited a CIS report that said Immigration and Customs Enforcement had released more than 36,000 people who had entered the country illegally and had subsequently been convicted of a crime, and were then released while awaiting the final processing for deportation or after the final order have been given.
The chairman also cited documents, obtained by subpoena, that indicated some 160,000 immigrants arrested between October 2008 and July 2011 by state and local law enforcement officers were released from custody.
Johnson said those released were done so "under conditions meant to ensure their return."
"My understanding is that a number of those immigrants released in FY13 were as a result from an order of an immigration judge," Johnson said, adding that he was working to "make sure that we're doing everything that we should be doing to ensure public safety in this process."
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., pushed back on Goodlatte's interpretation of those numbers, and said the Congressional Research Service found some 60 percent of those immigrants were in fact legal, permanent residents of the U.S., and could not be removed for those arrests.
And Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., accused House Republicans of casting around for a series of excuses to put off doing the work.
"Put aside the fact that [the Obama] administration has set records with respect to enforcing spending, detentions, prosecutions and removals," said Conyers. "The 'can't trust the president' excuse strikes me as a very odd complaint from a legislative body."
Immigration is certain to play an overt role in the upcoming midterm elections, to say nothing of the 2016 presidential campaign. The Senate-passed version of immigration reform last year, and a similar bill languishing in the House, would decrease the federal deficit by $900 billion in 20 years.
Earlier this month, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue warned Republicans that they "shouldn't bother to run a candidate in 2016" unless they help pass immigration reform this year, and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., piled on.
"I give you George W. Bush, the man who will go down in history as the last Republican president in American history," Gutiérrez said on the House floor. "Tom Donohue is right: There is a demographic reality that will make Republicans a footnote in history -- just like the Whigs and Know-Nothings -- unless they do something to get the immigration issue off the table."