WASHINGTON, April 22 (UPI) -- The White House pursues tough immigration enforcement against people who pose no threat to the United States, immigrant rights advocates charge.
Yet at the same time, the Obama administration calls for a new immigration laws to legalize many of the very people it seeks to deport, the advocates allege.
"People feel betrayed," Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the pro-immigrant Center for Community Change, told the Los Angeles Times in an article published Thursday.
U.S. President Barack Obama "never said he was going end immigration enforcement, but he sent a clear signal that he would redirect it to a focus on people with criminal records who are a threat to the country," Bhargava said. "That hasn't happened."
U.S. Homeland Security Assistant Secretary John T. Morton, who runs the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, disputed the criticism.
His agency has indeed focused on deporting criminals, noting removals of such immigrants would increase 40 percent this year, he told the Times.
And his agency often lets illegal immigrants remain in the United States, even when the law says they should be removed, he said.
The non-partisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at New York's Syracuse University found criminal immigrants in detention rose to 43 percent this year from 27 percent in 2009.
But the crimes are mostly minor offenses such as traffic violations or disorderly conduct, it said.
Only a "relatively small number" are criminals guilty of serious offenses such as armed robbery, drug smuggling and human trafficking, said the clearinghouse, which provides information about federal government enforcement activities.
U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., unveiled a reform proposal March 18 that would require illegal immigrants to admit they broke the law before they could gain legal status.
Obama said the proposal "should be the basis for moving forward" and pledged "to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year" around the bill.