Immigration reformers shifting their focus from Congress to the White House over deportations risk undermining efforts to pass a comprehensive reform bill this year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warned Thursday.
Pelosi said she supports the Congressional Hispanic Caucus's calls for the administration to reduce deportations. But simultaneously taking pressure off of House Republicans, she added, is a "gift" to GOP leaders, allowing them to dodge a sensitive issue that could hurt them in the 2014 election.
Pelosi stressed that legislation remains the Democrats' ultimate goal, and urged reformers to stay focused on Congress getting a bill.
"I see the pain and suffering of the deportations," she said. "But the answer, the medicine for every ill in the deportations is to pass comprehensive immigration reform."
Pelosi did not say that congressional Democrats or the White House should no longer consider reduced deportations. But her warning that the actions of pro-immigration groups could deliver Republicans a political benefit could raise questions about the strategy overall.
Many Democrats are calling on President Obama for reduced deportations, and Obama has asked Department of Homeland Security leaders for an across-the-board review of his deportations policies.
The move has made many critics hopeful he'll expand the administration's deferred action program, which allows some immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as kids to remain in the United States temporarily, to a broader population.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) met Wednesday with DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to discuss the agency's stated goal of reviewing deportation policy in efforts to make it more "humane."
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), perhaps Congress's most vocal critic of Obama's deportation policy, said afterward that his strong impression is that Johnson will expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, if Republicans in Congress don't act on an immigration bill soon.
"Clearly, he's going to take steps," Gutiérrez said, emphasizing that Johnson didn't say so explicitly.
"Barack Obama is going to take the actions necessary to protect our immigrant community if this House of Representatives fails to do it," he added. "I have absolutely no doubt."
For years, liberal Democrats have hammered Obama's deportation policy, arguing that it's far too aggressive at the expense of immigrant families, many of which have been separated as a result.
In the summer of 2012, Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows some high-achieving illegal immigrants brought to the country before age 16 to stay in the country and work without fear of deportation.
Immigrant rights advocates on and off Capitol Hill have hailed that program, but they've also pressured Obama to expand it to include more people.
— This story was corrected at 5:35 p.m. to note that Pelosi's comments focused on the actions of pro-immigration groups, and not at the actions of Democrats or the White House.