U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to law enforcement officials in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building May 13, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images
May 16, 2014 10:52 AM EDT

The Obama Administration indicated Thursday that it would revamp a controversial deportation review program in the near future as congressional efforts to pass immigration reform this year continue to prove fruitless.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in an interview that aired on PBS NewsHour Thursday that the Secure Communities program, which sends fingerprints of people booked into state and local jails to federal immigration authorities, needs a “fresh look.”

“In my judgment, Secure Communities should be an efficient way to work with state and local law enforcement to reach the removal priorities that we have, those who are convicted of something,” said Johnson. “We’re in the midst of evaluating potential revisions to our policies right now. I have been having meetings as recently as today.”

The move would likely placate immigration reform advocates, who have pushed to alter or get rid of Secure Communities, which they say is deporting immigrants who have committed only minor offenses. Johnson said the program has become “very controversial.”

Johnson’s comments were the most explicit indication of potential executive action since President Barack Obama said in January that he would explore all available options to reform the immigration system if Congress failed to pass a reform bill.

Republicans have repeatedly said that they are wary of passing any such bill due to deep mistrust in how the White House would administer the law. They point to the number of deadline extensions and revisions to the President’s health care law as examples of what they consider the Obama Administration’s incompetence in handling a major reform bill. Unilateral changes to immigration law would likely increase the Republican tenor, but could help the President and Democrats connect with Hispanics who are wary about the Obama Administration’s continually high level of deportations.

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