President Obama has put off executive action on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) until after the November mid-term elections, citing shifting political attitudes brought about by the influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border this summer. Obama had previously said he would use executive power to protect immigrant families from deportation, which has seen a sharp uptick during his time in office.
“Because of the Republicans’ extreme politicization of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections,” said a White House official, according to the New York Times. “Because he wants to do this in a way that’s sustainable, the president will take action on immigration before the end of the year.”
In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, reports Newsweek, Obama told Chuck Todd, “This problem with unaccompanied children that we saw a couple of weeks ago, where you had from Central America a surge of kids who are showing up at the border, got a lot of attention. And a lot of Americans started thinking, ‘We’ve got this immigration crisis on our hands.’”
Critics, including Cristina Jimenez, managing Director for United We Dream, say that the President is playing politics. “The president’s latest broken promise is another slap in the face of the Latino and immigrant communities,” said Jimenez. The United We Dream website says that as of September 11, 2014, more than 2.2 million immigrants have been deported by the Obama administration.
Reform advocates were hoping that, at a minimum, Obama would expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—which grants work permits and two years of protection from deportation to immigrants with no (or minimal) criminal record who entered the U.S. illegally before the age of 16—to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants now residing in the United States. Around 700,000 individuals have enrolled in DACA to date.
But policy recommendations submitted to the Department of Homeland Security by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in April looked to do more than expand DACA to older immigrants. Additional Hispanic Congress recommendations, according to The Hill, included:
- Allowing DACA enrollees to enlist in the military (which would provide a path to citizenship)
- Barring local governments from enforcing immigration law
- Allowing more undocumented relatives of U.S. military personnel and veterans to remain in the country while seeking green cards
The fear among Obama and his top aides is that announcing immigration reform prior to the November elections would anger conservatives—who have taken a harder-line immigration stance following the summer surge of unaccompanied Central American minors at the border—and hurt Democratic efforts to retain control of the Senate.
The President vowed to use his executive power to enact immigration reform after Republican Speaker John Boehner told him the House would not vote on immigration legislation in 2014. Obama has been criticized by Republicans for overextending his executive reach, but as the President said in July, “If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, the best solution to that is passing bills,” he said.
It seems that Obama still intends to overhaul immigration policy through the powers of his office, but he says that he is taking the time to craft a more long-term, comprehensive plan. He told Meet the Press that, “What I want to do is when I take executive action, I want to make sure that it’s sustainable.”