- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2014

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.

Eli Kantor, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles, said that message has not yet sunk in with people south of the border.

“On the Texas border, there’s a lot of disinformation that if you come as an unaccompanied minor, that you’ll get a ‘proviso,’” Mr. Kantor said. “And a lot of them actually are able to stay,” at least temporarily, by claiming special status as a refugee or a victim of abuse, he said.

Mr. Kantor, a spokesman for the American Immigration Attorneys Association, said he expects Mr. Obama to take limited executive action to ease deportations later this year. 

“I think what he’s going to do … is to expand DACA to different categories of people, a broader segment,” Mr. Kantor said. “I think Obama will do something to mollify critics on the left.”

Ms. Meissner, who served as commissioner of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, said Mr. Johnson’s review of deportation policies has likely been delayed by the border crisis.

“The key players are absolutely preoccupied with the southern border issue right now,” she said. “I could see that they might make some policy shift later in the year, when some of this has settled down again.”

The loss of Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, in his primary earlier this month also increases the likelihood that the House won’t act on immigration reform, Ms. Meissner said. 

Although she discounts the view that Mr. Cantor’s relatively moderate stance on immigration reform contributed to his defeat, she said other Republican lawmakers do believe immigration issues played a role.

“That’s the takeaway that many members of Congress have drawn from the experience,” she said. “That makes the Congress even more cautious and willing to criticize the administration, and makes it certain that they’re not going to be enacting any new legislation.”

Mr. Obama has declared this election year as his “year of action,” having already taken more than 20 executive actions to move forward with his agenda when Congress doesn’t agree. But an executive order on immigration could further motivate Republican voters, already fired up over Obamacare and what they view as the president’s misuse of his executive authority.

House Republicans said this week they are preparing to file a lawsuit against Mr. Obama for abusing his presidential powers. Ms. Meissner said any presidential move on immigration would add fuel to the GOP’s argument.

“The House has not once dropped an opportunity to cast this in terms of unwillingness to execute the law, that the actions he’s already taken are a sign that the president is lawless, that he’s in violation of his oath,” she said.

The president’s aides say Mr. Obama is increasingly frustrated at congressional inaction, because the Senate legislation is the best solution to improve the immigration system.

“None of those [executive action options] will be a substitute for the kind of congressional action that we’d like to see,” Mr. Earnest said.

 

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