- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2014

The surge of illegal immigrant children on the border knocked off President Obama’s timeline for unilateral action on immigration, but he said Thursday he still intends to move ahead with changes later this year.

Mr. Obama said the surge changed the politics of the issue by putting a spotlight on the border, and his administration had to scramble to try to stem the flow of unaccompanied children, more than 10,000 of whom entered the U.S. in June.

He said they’ve made major inroads in cutting that number, and fewer illegal immigrants are being caught now than a year ago at this time.

“That has kept us busy, but it has not stopped the process of looking more broadly about how do we get a smarter immigration system in place,” the president said.

Mr. Obama had previously said he would act by the end of the summer, but he gave no new timeline in a late-afternoon press conference at the White House.

Immigrant rights activists have pleaded with Mr. Obama to issue a broad policy putting a majority of the 11 million illegal immigrants out of any danger of deportation.

One option would be to expand his 2012 policy that granted tentative legal status and work permits to hundreds of thousands of young adult illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Activists also want him to curb the Secure Communities program that scours state and local prisons and jails, seeking illegal immigrants who have run afoul of the law and who could be deported.

Mr. Obama did not tip his hand on specific actions he’s considering, and said his preference would be that Congress passes a broad bill granting permanent legal status.

Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who has led the push for a crackdown on illegal immigration, said if Mr. Obama wants to act alone, he should do more to halt the surge of children and families from Central America.

Mr. Smith has called on the president to roll back his previous non-deportation policies, including the 2012 one for the young adults, or so-called dreamers. Mr. Smith also wants the administration to speed up deportations, saying that’s the best way to stem a flood of illegal immigrants.

Mr. Obama’s legal authority to halt deportations has been hotly debated. Already, however, his policies have left most illegal immigrants in little danger of being deported. The chief addition to expanding his 2012 “dreamer” policy would be to grant additional work permits to illegal immigrants.

Several Republicans have said that if Mr. Obama does act, they will try to block those moves by withholding funding in an upcoming stopgap spending bill.

The House passed two bills a month ago stiffening enforcement along the border and halting Mr. Obama’s “dreamer” policy. But Mr. Obama vowed to veto those bills should they reach his desk and the Democratic-led Senate didn’t pass them anyway.

The president had asked for several billion dollars to care for the children, but the Senate’s inaction meant he has had to do without new funding, leaving him to juggle accounts.

“That means we’ve got to make some administrative choices and executive choices about, for example, getting more immigration judges down there,” he said.

Hours before the president spoke to reporters, 145 immigration activists were arrested on the sidewalk outside the White House as they demanded a halt to deportations.

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