WASHINGTON — U. S. Sen. Patty Murray on Thursday urged President Obama to further flex his executive authority to ease detention and deportation of immigrants here illegally if Republicans remain unwilling to agree on comprehensive immigration reforms.
The Washington Democrat spoke on the Senate floor a day after Speaker John Boehner said Republicans will seek to sue Obama over what they consider his unconstitutional exercise of unilateral executive powers.
Murray, the No. 4 Senate Democratic leader, outlined what she called common-sense principles for coping with a broken immigration system. The Obama administration is detaining 460,000 immigrants annually and deporting nearly that many. Meanwhile, high-tech companies, farmers and other employers have pressed unsuccessfully for higher quotas for legal immigrants.
Murray said enforcement priorities against undocumented immigrants should focus on those who pose a real threat to society, sparing residents who are otherwise law abiding.
She cited the case of Benjamin Nuñez-Marquez, a native of Mexico and a long-time sawmill operator on Orcas Island. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last month gave him a last-minute reprieve from deportation after The Seattle Times featured him in a front-page story.
Murray also called for expanding prosecutorial discretion to avoid what she believes are needless deportations and to provide better due-process protection for detainees.
Earlier this month, all six House Democrats from Washington signed a letter co-drafted by Rep. Suzan DelBene of Medina similarly urging Obama to use his full legal authority.
The Democratic-majority Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill last June with a 68-32 vote, with 14 Republicans in support. But the House Republicans — riven by internal disagreements about eventual legal status for some immigrants and other issues — have not acted on the bill.
Murray said the political inertia is tearing up families and preventing the country from enforcing humane immigration laws that benefit the economy and “live up to our nation’s global reputation as a place of safety, fairness, and freedom.”
“I look forward to working with President Obama, along with Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress, to ensure our immigration system works,” she said. “And I know so many people here and around the country join me in hoping House Republicans step up and do the job that the American people expect them to do.”
Obama in recent months has issued a series of executive orders on immigration, minimum wage and other issues in response to congressional stalemate. In May, for instance, the administration said it would lift a ban on employment for spouses of skilled guest workers here on H-1B visas. It also has stopped deporting immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.