WASHINGTON (CNN) — After coming under fire from activists who labeled him “deporter in chief,” President Barack Obama is asking his administration to find better, more humane ways of administering current immigration law, the White House said Thursday.
Obama ordered his Homeland Security chief, Jeh Johnson, to conduct an “inventory of the department’s current practices to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law,” the White House said after Obama met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Immigration reform has remained a top agenda item for Obama this year after it failed to gain traction in the GOP-controlled House in 2013. A bipartisan immigration measure that passed the Senate stalled in the lower chamber, though House Speaker John Boehner has said he’s open to taking up piecemeal measures in the coming months.
Immigration reform proponents have urged Republicans to pass some kind of overhaul, though recently they’ve also taken aim at Obama, who they criticize for overseeing a rise in deportations. They’ve called on him to issue an executive order that would halt the procedures, though his aides have said that’s impossible.
Obama, in 2012, did sign an order that stopped the deportations of some young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents.
Last week, the president of the pro-immigration reform National Council of La Raza harshly chastised the President for not doing more to end deportations.
“For us, this President has been the deporter in chief,” Janet Murguía said at the organization’s annual gala.
“Any day now, this administration will reach the two million mark for deportations. It is a staggering number that far outstrips any of his predecessors and leaves behind it a wake of devastation for families across America,” Murguía said.
On Thursday, the White House said Obama, during his meeting with Hispanic lawmakers, “emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system.”
A senior administration official said the President’s call for a review of enforcement policies should not be seen as a substitute for comprehensive immigration reform.
A White House official also said the President will meet Friday at the White House with organizations committed to passing bipartisan commonsense immigration reform.
Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus immigration task force, said in a statement that Thursday’s meeting opened a “new dialogue between the CHC and the White House that had been dormant for too long.”
“The CHC members who met with the President were adamant that the President needed to act,” he said. “I agree with the President that the ultimate solution and responsibility for fixing our broken immigration system rests with the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and we will work together to demand Republicans take action.”
Gutierrez said he would meet with Johnson next week to present options.
CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.