In June of last year an immigration bill passed the United States Senate with an astounding margin of 68-32. The details of the bill were negotiated by a bipartisan group of 8 senators and included sweeping reforms that many Republicans – and a large majority of Americans – felt would help the country move forward with the long ignored immigration issues. The bill addressed the more than estimated 11 million people in the United States without legal status, the needs of worker shortages in certain industries and curbing further illegal entry into the country.
One year later, President Barack Obama stood in the Rose Garden, chiding House Republicans on their lack of movement on the bill and the chamber’s general incompetence.
In a forceful speech, the president raised the stakes by calling out partisan politics and announced his refusal to wait any longer to move forward with immigration policy. “While I will continue to push House Republicans to drop the excuses and act — and I hope their constituents will, too — America cannot wait forever for them to act,” he said. He then announced that he was “beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.”
Like he has with minimum wage reform and the working families initiatives, the president promised to do what he can within the power of the executive branch. After four years of a recalcitrant House led by Republicans he has been left with few choices to move forward on his agenda. Since they hold the purse strings, the president is limited by actions that are already allowed by law.
That may enable him to do more on immigration than any other program.
Since 2009, the Obama administration has been more aggressive with deportations than previous administrations. His efforts have come under great criticism from immigrant rights supporters, who have dubbed him the “deporter-in-chief.” The stepped up enforcement has left a strained relationship with many of his supporters.
He tested the waters on executive actions in 2012. That year he issued an executive order which allowed issuing of work permits and protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants under the age of 33 who came here as children. This allows them to live and work temporarily with the option to renew their permits every two years. Unsurprisingly, this time he was criticized from those on the right, who were dubbing the initiative an overreach of his authority and akin to granting amnesty. The order was issued more as a warning shot to Republicans, in hopes that full reform would have taken effect by now.
Just as those immigrants begin renewing their permits, it’s obvious Congress will continue to do nothing.
After being informed by House Speaker John Boehner that there would be no movement on immigration before the August recess, the president decided to take matters into his own hands. As if to show America how unreasonable Republicans are being on the issue, this week the president asked for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to deal with the humanitarian crisis currently happening at the Texas border.
Tens of thousands of immigrant children have been flooding into the United States at the Mexican border. Unaccompanied and many younger than five, the children are in limbo as they wait for what will most likely be a return back to their home countries. The majority of the children are coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador where poverty and violence have led to desperate measures by parents. The children are brought in by smugglers who have promised their families that they will not be deported.
President Obama has said they will not be allowed to remain.
According to a report in The Atlantic, the president told those attending a meeting with immigrant groups that his focus would solely be on humanitarian efforts and expediting the children’s return to their home countries. While sympathetic to their plight, he made clear that it would send a wrong message if he allowed the children to stay. As Major Garrett relays in his article, the president pointed out that “the U.S. had to signal its intent to enforce the law through deportations and that failure to do so could lead more children to die en route to the southern border or take scandalous risks by traveling with smugglers or on the roofs of trains. He could not, in good conscience, give any remotely encouraging signal to children or their parents to risk their lives, as many had already done in coming to America’s doorstep.”
He reportedly went on to say that kids all over the world have it tough, but if they are allowed to stay, “[t]hen anyone can come in, and it means that, effectively, we don’t have any kind of system,” Obama said. “We are a nation with borders that must be enforced.”
The money being requested from Congress will go to these efforts, including setting up temporary courts to help with the deportations. Thus far, the House has balked at his request.
In addition, the president is looking into what authority the executive branch has to provide temporary legal status to adult immigrants. He will also be shifting more resources to the border and step up enforcement. All of these actions were included in the bill the House has refused to bring to a vote.
The president has asked the Department of Justice and Homeland Security for a list of all possible actions by August – just in time for members of Congress to face their constituents at home during the break.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock