President Obama vowed executive action on a host of issues Tuesday night, but left out one major step that immigration advocates had wanted to hear — halting deportations.
A year after Mr. Obama used his address to issue a broad call for immigration reforms, he was more muted, couching his plea this time in economic terms and saying he believed “members of both parties” want to join him.
“Let’s get immigration reform done this year,” he said.
But immigrant-rights advocates had hoped he would go further and announce an executive decision to halt most deportations. They said that amid his other executive orders, he missed a chance.
“We were hopeful that President Obama would outline an ambitious new plan or offer more forms of executive relief to stop deportations. The president did not even mention a word on deportations,” said the Dream Action Coalition, a group of young illegal immigrant adults who have gained tentative legal status under Mr. Obama’s non-deportation policies but who argue those should be expanded to include their parents and others here illegally.
Under Mr. Obama, more than 2 million immigrants have been deported — a number that activists said is an ignominious record for a Democratic president.
Speaking on MSNBC, Rep. Raul Girjalva, Arizona Democrat, contrasted the lack of action on immigration with all of the other areas where the president said he’s act alone.
“He went over Congress’ head to deal with issues of voter registration, the minimum wage, Iran and diplomacy, climate change and using the Antiquities Act to conserve important areas — very strong, saying this office will work with the American people to make it better,” the congressman said. “On immigration, you didn’t have that authoritative point [and] that specificity would have been welcome.”
For his part, Mr. Obama says that while he had the authority to halt deportations for young adults, he doesn’t believe he can do it unilaterally for all illegal immigrants.
In the official Republican response to Mr. Obama’s speech, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of the House GOP leadership, said Republicans do want to tackle immigration — but she didn’t delve into the key question of whether Republicans will support legal status or a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
“We’re working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform by first securing our borders and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world,” she said.
Even if immigration got less attention from Mr. Obama, it was a major theme for those watching from the public viewing galleries.
A number of Democrats, and even Mr. Obama himself, invited illegal immigrants who have been granted stays of deportation to attend the speech, and invited major movement leaders who conducted a weeks-long fast on the National Mall last year.