“The fact that the president and the vice president are hosting illegal immigrants in the White House while constricting citizen tours and refusing to meet with immigration officers says it all,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said in a statement to FoxNews.com Friday. “The White House will not even grant ICE officers a low-level White House meeting but invites illegal immigrants into the Oval Office.”
Obama and Vice President Biden met Tuesday with eight advocates of immigration legislation, which is making its way through Congress. Three of the participants were listed in the White House readout as having “deferred action” -- a term that means they were granted a reprieve, likely via the administration directive last year that allowed some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to avoid deportation and seek work authorization.
Some Republicans are open to ultimately granting permanent legal status to these and other undocumented immigrants. But Sessions, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., both complained that the president is at the same time snubbing the law enforcement officials tasked with enforcing U.S. border policies.
Sessions and Goodlatte sent a letter to Obama Thursday asking why the White House had not responded to repeated requests to meet with representatives from the National ICE Council, the union that represents more than 7,000 customs enforcement officers.
According to the letter, the ICE union has been trying to snag a meeting at the White House for three months to discuss the immigration overhaul, to no avail.
“To be effective any immigration reform bill must heed the warnings from our federal immigration agents,” the lawmakers wrote. “Unfortunately, far from being included in the process, ICE officers have been shut out and have even had their day-to-day operations handcuffed by DHS officials to the point of being unable to carry out their sworn duties.”
The White House refutes the claims, though, and says it has made itself available to multiple immigration enforcement officers over the past few months -- if not the ICE union specifically.
On May 14, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Director of National Drug Control Policy R. Gil Kerlikowske were among administration officials who sat down with law enforcement officers from across the country. During the meeting, Napolitano and Kerlikowske pushed for broad immigration reform and touted the White House’s investments in personnel and technology targeted to keep the borders safe.
The meeting came three months after another Washington gathering with Napolitano and White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Munoz. In that meeting, Munoz outlined the principles at the heart of Obama’s immigration proposal which included cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers and creating a pathway to citizenship.
But Chris Crane, president of the ICE union, has made clear dating back to February that he wants his group to be as involved with immigration legislation as other business and advocacy groups have been.
Obama may have other reasons for avoiding a meeting -- members of the union have filed suit against Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, claiming they're being prevented from doing their jobs.
The union has started to actively lobby against the current Senate bill, citing concerns that current gaps in enforcement will only be perpetuated. They were joined this week by the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, which represents 12,000 federal immigration officers at the USCIS.
On Tuesday, a Senate committee passed the so-called Gang of Eight immigration bill. The legislation would still have to be approved by the full Senate.
On the House side, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor warned Thursday that they would not rubber-stamp the legislation.
“The House remains committed to fixing our broken immigration system, but we will not simply take up and accept the bill that is emerging in the Senate if it passes,” Boehner and Cantor said in a joint statement.