Obama Administration Prepares to Go It Alone on Immigration Reform

This is the way comprehensive immigration reform ends, at least for now: not with a bang, but a whimper. On June 30, 2014 – a year to the day after the Senate passed landmark immigration reform legislation – President Obama announced what most observers already suspected, that a House companion bill to the Senate’s CIR measure would not be forthcoming. [See Remarks by the President on Border Security and Immigration Reform, White House Press Office, 30.Jun.2014.]

Speaking from the Rose Garden at the White House, President Obama praised the House GOP members who worked behind the scenes – albeit fruitlessly – to advance the cause of immigration reform, while he chided those who either sat on the sidelines or actively obstructed progress on the issue.

For their part, House Republicans blamed the President. House Speaker John Boehner, who is suing the President over what many in his caucus take to be an excessive use of executive action, said he told Mr. Obama that, “the American people and their elected officials don’t trust him to enforce the law as written,” and that there would be no progress on CIR “until that changes.” [See Obama to Take Action After Boehner Kills Immigration Reform, by Benjy Sarlin, 01.Jul.2014, MSNBC.]

The President’s rejoinder, according to the White House: “If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, the best solution to that is passing bills. Pass a bill, solve a problem…  Because if we pass a bill, that will supplant whatever I’ve done administratively.”

In other words, it’s no longer a merely notional threat that the President will proceed with immigration reforms on his own, absent Congressional action. The administration is already gearing up for this, as President Obama made clear in his June 30th remarks, noting that he’s directed Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson, and Attorney General Eric Holder, to provide all available resources to deal with the immediate crisis on the border – the massive influx of unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central America – and “to identify additional actions my administration can take on our own, within my existing legal authorities, to do what Congress refuses to do and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.”

Mr. Obama said he expects DOJ and DHS to submit their administrative immigration reform recommendations before the end of the summer, and that implementation would follow shortly afterwards.

All of this may be easier said than done. Mr. Obama has a difficult task; given the crisis on the border, he can’t afford to push policies that encourage – or appear to encourage – the ongoing cross-border exodus. However, if he pushes deportations too forcefully, he risks further alienating Latino voters, many of whom are already upset about the administration’s aggressive deportation policy. These factors seem to have figured in recent White House decision to postpone two proposed policy changes, which, if implemented, would halt deportations of non-criminal undocumented aliens – people whose only offenses are immigration violations – and would allow parents of “Dreamers” – undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children – to stay and work in the United States. [See Obama Puts Off Plans to Soften Deportation Rules, by Brian Bennett and Kathleen Hennessey, Los Angeles Times, 26.Jun.2014.]

It remains to be seen how the administration will navigate between these two shoals. We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops, and will keep our readers posted on any significant policy changes.

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