The surge of illegal immigrants from Central America is creating a political bind for President Obama, who’s under increasing pressure from supporters to bypass Congress and further slacken deportations, a move that could backfire by further inflaming conservative voters in this mid-term election year.
The new influx of immigrants, including more than 52,000 children who have crossed the border since October, comes in the midst of a Homeland Security Department review that Mr. Obama has ordered to look for ways to take executive action on immigration.
The president is using the threat of an executive order to prod House Republicans to pass comprehensive legislation, including a pathway to citizenship, but immigration specialists say the crisis makes it more difficult for the president to carry out his threat.
“He really is in a very tight place,” said Doris Meissner, director of immigration policy at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “It’s virtually an impossible situation. It is not a situation that in any way respects policy and reasonable discourse. It’s entirely politics.”
On the left, Mr. Obama is facing immigration advocates who have run out of patience waiting for House Republicans to take up the Senate-passed version of comprehensive immigration reform. One of their leaders, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, said Wednesday that Republicans’ time has expired.
“We’ve given you time to craft legislation and you failed,” Mr. Gutierrez told Republicans on the House floor. “The president has no other choice but to act on existing laws to make deportation policies more humane.”
On the right, the president is under fire from conservatives who say the new surge of illegal immigrants is fresh evidence that the administration is failing to enforce border security and can’t be trusted to implement any tighter measures.
Even Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican who has urged his party to address immigration reform, said Mr. Obama “has allowed a national security and humanitarian crisis to develop on the U.S. southern border.”
However, Rep. Joaquin Castro, Texas Democrat, blamed that flood too on the Republican-run House.
“A lot of folks are blaming the president but I blame the House of Representatives,” the Texas Democrat said on MSNBC. “If we had passed either the Senate version of immigration reform or the House version there would have been billions of dollars in resources for international cooperation, for more border security and also there would have been a more clear line of delineation about what it would take to immigrate here legally.”
White House aides say Mr. Obama is still considering what actions he might take by himself on immigration if Congress doesn’t do what he wants by the end of this summer.
“It’s fair to say the White House and the president have been pretty disappointed,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday on MSNBC. “We’re not going to just sit around and wait interminably for Congress.”
Senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett said last week that Mr. Obama might “build upon” his program of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which critics are blaming for encouraging the latest surge of unaccompanied child immigrants. Ms. Jarrett said no decisions have been made, pending the review by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
Much of Mr. Johnson’s work schedule in recent days has been consumed with visits to border states to inspect facilities where the illegal child immigrants are being housed temporarily. In Arizona on Wednesday, Mr. Johnson issued a new warning to families in Central America not to send their children to the U.S., and he tried to dispel the widespread belief that such children are eligible for ‘permisos’ documents that would allow them to remain in America.
“This journey is a dangerous one and at the end of it there is no free pass, there is no ‘permisos’ for your children to come to the United States,” Mr. Johnson said.