Critics of President Obama's immigration policy have pounced on an internal government memo they say shows the administration is trying to circumvent Congress on immigration reform and avoid deporting some illegal immigrants.
An undated, internal draft memo by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services leaked Thursday outlines "administrative relief options to… reduce the threat of removal for certain individuals present in the United States without authorization."
"In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform," it reads, "USCIS can extend benefits and/or protections to many individuals and groups by issuing new guidance and regulations."
The memo describes possible steps the agency could take to address the situation of the country's estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants, including granting some groups conditional legal residency.
One of the most controversial proposals in the document involves immigration courts showing greater leniency in some deportation cases by "deferring action"– possibly indefinitely.
"This would permit individuals for whom relief may become available in the future to live and work in the U.S. without fear of removal," the memo reads. It specifically suggests such a course be used for the estimated 50,000 undocumented youth who came to the U.S. as children and could be eligible for a path to citizenship under the pending Dream Act.
While the federal government has long exercised discretion in immigration cases on an ad hoc basis, Republicans say using those tools more broadly would amount to "amnesty."
"The President has promised border security and immigration enforcement. He has said we must hold individuals accountable for their illegal acts," said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the top House Republican on the Judiciary Committee. "But now we find out the truth: while saying one thing to the public, the Obama administration is scheming to ensure that immigration laws are not enforced."
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has joined 11 other senators in pressing the administration for details on possible policy changes, said the leaked document "provides an additional basis for our concerns."
"The problem remains that if you reward illegality, you get more of it. Our first order of business must be to secure the border and enforce the laws on the books, not look for back channel ways to reward law breakers," Grassley said in a statement.
U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services press secretary Christopher Bentley responded to the accusations saying, "nobody should mistake deliberation and exchange of ideas for final decisions. To be clear, the Department of Homeland Security will not grant deferred action or humanitarian parole to the nation's entire illegal immigrant population."
"Internal memoranda help us do the thinking that leads to important changes; some of them are adopted and others are rejected. Our goal is to implement policies wisely and well to strengthen all aspects of our mission," he said.
The memo does acknowledge the political perils of pursuing some of the more controversial options it raises – including the prospect of having to ask Congress for funding.