Judiciary chairman slams new ICE policy on parental rights

The Obama administration on Friday announced a policy directive aimed at reducing the disruption to families during the deportation process, drawing praise from advocates for children and criticism from a senior House Republican.

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The directive from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency would make it easier for parents to visit a child in a detention center and to participate in person or via video conference in deportation hearings. It would also give enforcement agents more leeway to take family considerations into account when making deportation decisions, and it would allow, in some cases, for a deported parent to return to the U.S. to attend a hearing for a child.

“ICE personnel should ensure that the agency’s immigration enforcement activities do not unnecessarily disrupt the parental rights of both alien parents or legal guardians of minor children,” the directive stated.

The move comes as the administration is pressuring the Republican-led House to take up comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The legislation that passed the Senate includes an expanded version of family reunification provisions, but House GOP leaders have vowed not to bring it for a vote.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, denounced the ICE directive, saying it “poisons the debate surrounding immigration reform and shows that the administration is not serious about fixing our broken immigration system.”

“President Obama has once again abused his authority and unilaterally refused to enforce our current immigration laws by directing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to stop removing broad categories of unlawful immigrants,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “The primary reason why our immigration system is broken today is because our immigration laws have largely been ignored by past and present administrations. It’s imperative that we prevent this from happening again by taking away the enforcement ‘on/off’ switch from the president.”

The Judiciary Committee in June approved the Safe Act, which seeks to limit the authority of the administration to ignore enforcement of immigration laws and gives states and localities more power to enforce the laws on their own.

The decision from ICE drew praise from the First Focus Campaign for Children, an advocacy group.

“The Family Interest Directive is a major victory for children, reducing the likelihood that immigration enforcement will tear families apart and reducing the harm to kids when separation is unavoidable,” said Bruce Lesley, the organization’s president. “But only Congress can give these critical reforms the force and permanence of law and deliver the other protections children need.”