WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered a review to see whether US deportation policies could be conducted more "humanely" following complaints by Latino advocates over mass expulsions of illegal immigrants.
Obama last week blamed Congress for high levels of deportations, saying he had no choice but to enforce existing laws because an attempt to pass immigration reform had been jammed in Congress.
Obama told a group of Hispanic lawmakers that he had asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to probe "the department's current practices to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law," the White House said.
It was not immediately clear if actions following such a review would halt any deportations.
Obama was this month branded "deporter in chief" by one Latino advocacy group over mass expulsions.
But he said that Congress was forcing his hand.
"I cannot ignore those laws any more than I can ignore any of the other laws that are on the books," he said.
Obama said he had ordered government agents to give priority to deportations of those involved in illegal activity and gangs - and had used executive power to shield undocumented young people with illegal status who have known no home other than the United States.
"What I have done is to use my prosecutorial discretion," Obama said.
The National Council of La Raza, America's largest Latino advocacy organisation, says the administration is close to reaching the two million mark for deportations.
The Senate immigration bill, passed last year, offers a path to eventual citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.
It includes tighter border monitoring, an overhauled work visa programme and other key reforms.
But many observers believe it is such a tough vote for many Republicans that it has no chance of passing the House before mid-term elections in November.