The Strategy to Hold Off on Deportation Changes Wins Out

The Obama administration is waiting on executive action on immigration. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Congress is going to step in.

WASHINGTON - JULY 28: Dozens of U.S.-born children from across the country traveled to the White House with their undocumented parents to march and demonstrate against recent deportations July 28, 2010 in Washington, DC. Organized by CASA de Maryland, Familias Latinas Unidas, and other organizations, marchers describing themselves as "Obama Orphans," or children whose parents have been deported, called on President Barack Obama to keep his campaign promise of comprehensive immigration reform. 
Getty Images
Elahe Izadi
May 28, 2014, 9:06 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama has dir­ec­ted Home­land Se­cur­ity Sec­ret­ary Jeh John­son to delay an­noun­cing any changes to de­port­a­tion en­force­ment un­til after the sum­mer, in an ef­fort to give the House one last shot to move re­form this year.

That news, first re­por­ted by the  As­so­ci­ated Press, came after a co­hort of in­flu­en­tial pro-re­form groups said they “strongly urge” the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to hold off on ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion. “We be­lieve the Pres­id­ent should move cau­tiously and give the House lead­er­ship all of the space they may need to bring le­gis­la­tion to the floor for a vote,” said the Tues­day state­ment from groups in­clud­ing the Na­tion­al His­pan­ic Chris­ti­an Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence, the Na­tion­al Im­mig­ra­tion For­um, SEIU, and the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civil and Hu­man Rights.

But some young­er im­mig­ra­tion act­iv­ists, who have been vo­cal in tak­ing Obama to task on de­port­a­tions, are strongly op­posed to such a delay. United We Dream policy and ad­vocacy dir­ect­or Lorella Praeli said the co­ali­tion is “out­raged” at the delay, and that Obama “con­tin­ues cower­ing be­fore House Re­pub­lic­ans who show no real com­mit­ment to move im­mig­ra­tion re­form for­ward.”

“His de­cision demon­strates his com­pla­cency and will­ing­ness to de­port more than 1,100 people every day and sep­ar­ate count­less fam­il­ies, ce­ment­ing his leg­acy as the de­port­er-in-chief,” Praeli said in a state­ment.

The strategy be­hind the delay cre­ates a space for Re­pub­lic­ans to act on re­form, without be­ing able to point to Obama tak­ing ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion as killing re­form as an out. “The House Re­pub­lic­ans are now out of ex­cuses not to pass im­mig­ra­tion re­form and the ball is in their court,” said Demo­crat­ic Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, who helped craft the Sen­ate’s bi­par­tis­an im­mig­ra­tion bill. “Sup­port­ers of re­form have bent over back­wards to give the House space to act, and now it’s time for them to do so.”

It’s not all that sur­pris­ing that Obama would delay such an an­nounce­ment. The pres­id­ent has pre­vi­ously signaled that there’s a win­dow for the House to move on re­form. And last week, Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­ers set a hard dead­line of Ju­ly 31, the last day of con­gres­sion­al work be­fore Au­gust re­cess, for the House to pass com­pre­hens­ive re­form. After that dead­line passes, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id urged ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion. “We waited 329 days; we’re will­ing to wait an­oth­er six weeks,” Re­id said.

But wait­ing six more weeks is something that some ad­voc­ates say has real-life con­sequences, and that’s time they can’t af­ford.

Obama had dir­ec­ted John­son back in March to start the re­view, after pres­sure from ad­voc­ates reached a fever-pitch. With lack of con­gres­sion­al ac­tion, many be­came frus­trated that the pres­id­ent wasn’t do­ing more to al­le­vi­ate de­port­a­tions.

The pres­id­ent had been walk­ing a fine line. If he took strong ac­tion, he would be sig­nal­ing that chances for re­form are dead in Con­gress (or, for Re­pub­lic­ans, that he wants to “kill” re­form). By pulling back to al­low more time, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is tem­per­ing such a cri­ti­cism and ral­ly­ing ad­voc­ates around a sole tar­get: House Re­pub­lic­ans.

Both sides of the de­bate can’t even come to an agree­ment on the num­bers be­hind Obama’s de­port­a­tion re­cord. Pro-re­form act­iv­ists have ma­ligned Obama as the “de­port­er-in-chief,” with an oft-men­tioned 2 mil­lion de­por­ted fig­ure that mainly in­cludes re­movals. But Re­pub­lic­ans charge that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is in­flat­ing its de­port­a­tion fig­ures by count­ing de­port­a­tions that wer­en’t coun­ted as such un­der pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions, with re­movals from the in­teri­or hav­ing gone down, while those with­in 100 miles of the bor­der have gone up.

Des­pite Demo­crats giv­ing them a hand­ful of weeks to act, House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers show no in­dic­a­tions that they are go­ing to take up im­mig­ra­tion re­form this sum­mer (they also haven’t ruled it out). Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor has pub­licly sup­por­ted cit­izen­ship for some un­doc­u­mented young people and al­low­ing them to en­list in the mil­it­ary to gain leg­al status, but his primary cam­paign has been ad­vert­ising his role in stop­ping the Sen­ate bill to “give il­leg­al ali­ens am­nesty.”

House Speak­er John Boehner has con­tin­ued to in­sist that a lack of trust in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to en­force new im­mig­ra­tion laws is what’s pre­vent­ing the House from mov­ing on re­form now.

On Thursday, the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will hold its first over­sight hear­ing with John­son in at­tend­ance, where ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion will be the fo­cus. “The com­mit­tee ex­pects Sec­ret­ary John­son to an­swer our ques­tions to­mor­row and ex­plain why the ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tin­ues to reck­lessly dis­reg­ard our im­mig­ra­tion laws,” Chair­man Bob Good­latte said in a state­ment.

Not ex­actly the sen­ti­ments of GOP lead­ers who are anxious to vote on re­form pro­pos­als this sum­mer, are they?