President Obama said he will act unilaterally to make changes to the nation’s immigration policies. The move comes amid a worsening humanitarian crisis on the border that the president said “underscores” the need to implement major reforms.
“The failure of House Republicans to pass a darn bill is bad for our security, it’s bad for our economy, and it’s bad for our future,” Obama said of House Republicans during a statement Monday afternoon in the Rose Garden. “America cannot wait forever for them to act. That’s why, today, I’m beginning a new effort to fix as much of our broken immigration system as I can on my own.”
The president said he made his decision after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently informed him that the House won’t vote on an immigration reform bill this year. Republican stonewalling prompted Obama to use his executive authority to bypass Congress and implement reforms himself —something that immigrant-rights groups have been urging for months.
Obama said his government will make greater efforts to stop immigrants attempting to cross without authorization at the border. That shift of resources means that there will be likely be a lesser focus on workplace raids and deporting undocumented immigrants already living in the United States, unless they have committed a “serious crime,” a White House official said before the announcement.
Obama will ask his advisers to recommend additional actions by the end of the summer. The president had commissioned a review of the nation’s deportation policies in an effort to make them more humane, but put that review on hold in May to attempt a final push to get the bill through Congress.
His final drive came up short, however. Now, more than a year after the Senate passed a sweeping immigration reform bill, it’s apparent that the bill has no chance of getting through the House of Representatives. It’s a defeat for Obama, who campaigned on a promise to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws while providing a path to citizenship for many of the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
Boehner blasted Obama on Monday for “going it alone.”
“It is sad and disappointing that — faced with this challenge — President Obama won’t work with us, but is instead intent on going it alone with executive orders that can’t and won’t fix these problems,” he said in a statement.
The immigration debate has become even more heated with the arrival of a massive influx of Central American children, who are illegally crossing the border. The president has called it an “urgent humanitarian situation.”
More than 52,000 unaccompanied minors — mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — have been apprehended at the border since last October, and the number is expected to top 70,000 by the end of the year. An additional 39,000 adults with children have been caught during the same period.
In addition to bolstering enforcement efforts at the border, Obama is asking Congress to change the law to allow the administration to speed up deportations of undocumented children. A Bush-era law prevents expedited removals of Central American children to keep them from falling victim to human-trafficking networks.
Immigrant advocacy groups are criticizing the White House’s plan to beef-up border security and quicken the deportation process for child migrants. Changing the law to speed up deportations of unaccompanied youth would “roll back due process on some of the most vulnerable members of society,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.
Republicans blame the crisis on Obama, and claim his proposed solution is only making the matter worse.
“President Obama created this disaster at our southern border, and now he is asking American taxpayers to foot the bill,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told Fusion in response to the president’s request for $2 billion in additional funding to contain the flow of undocumented children.
Goodlatte said “a better solution” would be to “actually enforce our immigration laws within the interior of the United States, and start to crack down on fraudulent asylum claims — all of which he has the authority to do now.”
Boehner has threatened to sue Obama for abusing his executive powers. The speaker has not stated whether Obama’s enforcement of immigration laws, including his 2012 deportation relief program for young undocumented immigrants, will be part of the lawsuit.
Obama, however, says Republicans are part of the problem by refusing to be part of the solution.
“The problem is our system is so broken, so unclear that folks don’t know what the rules are,” Obama said.
Still, it’s not clear what type of deportation relief the president will offer with his forthcoming executive action at the end of the summer. Advocates are pressuring Obama to stop deporting parents who have U.S. citizen children.
“While we are hopeful our community will soon feel some relief; we will withhold judgment of the president’s commitments until his words are turned into reality,” said Eddie Carmona, a campaign manager with the PICO National Network.
When it comes to unaccompanied minors, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the loudest opponents of deportations in the House, thinks the U.S.’ deportation protocol with Mexico might be a precedent for similar arrangements with Central American countries.
“If you’re a Mexican national and come as an unaccompanied child, you go back to Mexico quickly,” Gutierrez said during an event today in Chicago. “I assure you, they are probably putting together agreements with Central American countries as we speak.”
With reporting from Paola Cardona in Chicago.