ABC News’ Pierre Thomas, Mike Levine, Jack Date, and Jack Cloherty report:
The Obama administration will announce “pretty soon” how it plans to remodel enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws and potentially “realign” deportation policies, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told ABC News in an exclusive interview.
This comes a month after President Obama asked Johnson to “conduct a review of practices” to ensure “we are carrying out these policies in the most humane way possible,” as a White House spokesman put it at the time.
In an interview with ABC News’ Pierre Thomas for “This Week,” Johnson said the enforcement of immigration laws “needs to comport with American values.”
“One of those American values is respect for human dignity … [and] one of those American values is respect for the sanctity of the family unit,” Johnson told ABC News’ Pierre Thomas.
When announcing the new review last month, White House spokesman Jay Carney cited, “the pain that families who are separated have been feeling as a result of deportations.”
As part of his review, Johnson said he has been talking to members of Congress, advocacy groups and his own workforce.
“We’re still in the midst of the review. And I’m consulting a wide network of people. But I expect to have something pretty soon,” Johnson said when asked when the review would be complete.
In particular, he said he is consulting officials within Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or ICE – “in a way that I’m not sure they’ve been consulted in the past,” according to Johnson.
“I’ve consulted ICE leadership on what our priorities should be, how we could realign them, potentially,” Johnson said. “I am looking for ways to more effectively enforce and administer our immigration laws. I believe there is room for improvement, and hopefully we’ll get to a better place.”
On Friday, dozens of protesters marched to ICE headquarters in Washington to confront the agency over its deportation policies.
“President Obama has been promising immigration reform, but what he has given the people is actually record numbers of deportations and violations of their civil rights,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, a lead organizer For Congress of Day Laborers.
But one day before the protest at ICE headquarters, 22 Republican senators sent President Obama a letter expressing their “grave concerns” over Johnson’s review, saying the “changes under consideration would represent a near complete abandonment of basic immigration enforcement.”
“As a result of your policies, individuals here illegally who do not meet administration ‘priorities’ are not only largely exempt from the law, but are released even if they come into contact with federal law enforcement authorities,” the letter added.
Calling it a matter of “public safety,” the administration has focused its limited enforcement resources on undocumented immigrants who have committed other crimes, especially violent crimes.
“I have to be honest, I don’t understand those who say we are not enforcing the law,” Johnson told “This Week.” “We are enforcing the law every day… There are thousands of people who are convicted criminals and others who are removed from this country [each day].”
Johnson also took aim at critics who suggest immigration authorities are skirting the law when they offer services to unaccompanied children found sneaking into the U.S.
“The law requires that we, as quickly as possible, get them to [health officials] for services there,” Johnson said. “That’s a legal requirement, and we follow that.”
Regardless of what types of changes may come from his review of deportation policy, Johnson urged lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform, saying there is no “substitute for action by Congress.”
“[It] is vitally important as a matter of homeland security,” he said. “We need more resources for border security. I also believe that we need to encourage the 11.5 undocumented immigrants in this country to come out of the shadows, become accountable and get on an earned path to citizenship.”
Johnson said there are “a lot” of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who support comprehensive immigration reform, and he is “confident that it will happen.”
“I couldn’t tell you when, but there is so much support for this in Congress, in the business community, among organized labor, and, if the polls are to be believed, by a majority of the American public,” Johnson said. “And I believe that there will come a point when Congress will act.”
On Thursday, during a lunch in his home state of Ohio, Republican House Speaker John Boehner mocked his fellow House Republicans for their seeming reluctance to act on immigration reform, saying in a mock whine, “Here’s the attitude: ‘Ohh, don’t make me do this! Ohh, this is too hard!’ You should hear ‘em.”
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