jeh johnson, immigration

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson administers the oath of allegiance to new U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony last week in New York. (Andrew Burton / Getty Images / April 2, 2014)

WASHINGTON — After meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus voiced confidence Wednesday that if the Republican-led House fails to undertake immigration reform this year, the administration will act by executive action.

Last month, President Obama promised Latino leaders that his administration would review its deportation policy and enforce laws "more humanely." Under Obama, deportations hit the 2-million mark, often separating families.

Johnson arrived for the morning meeting at the Capitol with a file full of potential immigration law changes. Latino leaders also presented their own six-page proposal of reforms, including a halt to deportations of many of the estimated 11 million immigrants who would have qualified for legal status by paying fines and learning English under a bipartisan Senate bill that has stalled in the House.

An hour later, the lawmakers left saying that their concerns were understood.

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (R-Texas), the chairman of the caucus, said Johnson "assured us he is thoroughly reviewing the department's enforcement policies. He understands the impact these laws have on families."

The meeting comes as protesters have been camped in front of the White House and fasting on the National Mall all week, hoping to prod House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio.) to act.

Republicans have resisted immigration reform, even as party leaders, including potential presidential contender Jeb Bush, have urged the party to soften its tone.

Any move by the White House to take executive action could complicate matters.

On the one hand, the threat of administrative action could push Republicans to join the debate. But if the administration goes it alone, that would probably dash any hopes for legislative compromise because it would anger Republicans.

Already, the White House has used it executive authority to temporarily halt the deportations of the so-called dreamers, young people brought the country illegally as children.

No administrative action is expected until later this year. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), who is trying to push his colleagues with a proposal to allow immigrants here illegally to enlist in the military and gain legal status, urged caution by the White House — even though his bill ran into resistance from GOP hardliners.

"The more executive orders this president does, the more difficult it is," Denham said.

[For The Record, 11:29 a.m. PDT April 10: An earlier version of this post referred to Rep. Raul Hinojosa (R-Texas). The lawmaker's name is Ruben Hinojosa.] 

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