WASHINGTON, DC -- A group of 22 senators _ all but two of whom voted against a Senate-approved immigration reform bill _ warned President Barack Obama Thursday in a letter that immigration changes his administration is considering would be “a near complete abandonment” of immigration enforcement.
The letter also accused the president of taking actions that show “an astonishing disregard for the Constitution, rule of law, and the rights of American citizens and residents.”
The letter follows a directive from Obama to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to review the administration’s enforcement practices to ensure they are humanely applied. Johnson has been meeting with various groups, including activists, farm growers, religious leaders and business owners. He has been seeking input regarding deportations, which have created intense backlash against Obama from his political base.
“The changes under consideration would represent a near abandonment of basic immigration enforcement and discard the rule of law and the notion that the United States has enforceable borders,” said the letter dated Thursday first reported by The Associated Press. A copy of the letter was also obtained by NBC News.
A call and email to the office of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell requesting comment were not immediately returned.
In response to the letter, DHS spokesperson Peter Boogaard said in a statement that Johnson had "also sought and welcomed the ideas of various stakeholders and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, which represent a diverse set of views and opinions."
The GOP senators said Obama’s immigration enforcement policies have nullified enforcement in the interior “to the point that unless individuals in the country illegally are apprehended, tried and convicted for a felony or other serious offense, they are free to live and work in the country.”
That accusation follows efforts by Obama to push back against criticism from activists who have labeled the president “deporter in chief” and blasted him for the 2 million deportations that have occurred under his watch.
The administration and Democratic allies have recently begun arguing that the president’s enforcement policies are actually more humane, efficient and are focused on stopping people at the border and assessing stiffer penalties to prevent people who have been deported from crossing again. The Republican letter does not mention the president’s border enforcement efforts.
Simon Rosenberg, head of the New Democratic Network, told NBC News last week that Obama is being unfairly criticized. By introducing a priority list for deportees, Obama has made it more likely that people here illegally who have committed crimes will be deported over people who have never committed a crime and never left the country and tried to cross back into the U.S. illegally, Rosenberg said.
The Senate Republicans, however, said in their letter that the policies “operated as an effective repeal of duly enacted immigration law and exceed the bounds of prosecutorial discretion.”
The two senators who signed the letter and voted for the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill last June were Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
Others who signed the letter who voted against the immigration reform bill were: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., John Boozman, R-Ark;, Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.; Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Mike Johanns, R-Neb.; Mike Lee, R-Utah; Jim Risch, R-Idaho; Pat Roberts, R-Kansas; Tim Scott, R-S.C.; Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.,; Richard Shelby, R-Ala.; David Vitter, R-La.