WASHINGTON — President Obama should use his full legal authority to curb needless deportation and detention of undocumented immigrants, U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene and 57 House Democrats urged in a letter released Thursday.
The offices of DelBene, a freshman from Medina, and Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., drafted the letter, which calls on Obama to move more aggressively to implement his administration’s goal of “humane” immigration enforcement.
In May, Obama instructed the Department of Homeland Security to delay review of deportation policies until after Congress starts its August recess. The order was meant to salvage the slim hope of a legislative compromise with Republicans.
But that prospect dimmed on Tuesday after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was knocked out in the Virginia primary. The victor, economist David Brat, attacked Cantor’s limited embrace of immigration reform, including eventual citizenship for some young undocumented residents as amnesty for illegal immigrants.
In their letter, DelBene and Quigley said the Obama administration should more fully apply its existing discretion to stop detaining and removing people who may be guilty of nothing other than immigration violations. Those groups include immigrants with family members who are American citizens or permanent residents, those with children who were bought to the country at young age, and people without legal papers who have lived here long and otherwise lawfully.
DelBene serves on the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration issues. Quigley, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, is working to strip funding from the Homeland Security budget that mandates the federal government keep 34,000 beds in immigrant-detention centers.
All five other House Democrats from Washington co-signed the letter: Reps. Jim McDermott of Seattle; Adam Smith of Bellevue; Rick Larsen of Everett; Denny Heck of Olympia, and Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor.
Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, has repeatedly criticized conditions at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Hundreds of detainees at the facility waged hunger strikes over two months earlier this year to protest separation from their families, poor food, medical care and steep commissary prices that include plastic plates at $1 each.
The detention center is operated by the private prison company GEO Group.
Some 430,000 immigrants are detained each year, including legal residents caught in paperwork mix ups. The annual taxpayer tab runs $2 billion.
DelBene and Quigley say many of the locked-up immigrants can be safely released and money redirected to pursuing unlawful residents who pose risks to public safety or national security.
In addition, the Obama administration has been deporting immigrants at a rate of nearly 400,000 people annually, faster than under President George W. Bush. But deportation orders sometimes are issued or withdrawn inconsistently.