Record numbers of unaccompanied children crossing into the U.S. from Mexico and a clear signal that immigration reform is dead in the House have prompted President Obama to launch a new administration effort to “fix as much of our immigration system as I can” on his own.
In a Monday address from the White House Rose Garden, Obama announced that he has directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to move immigration resources from the interior of the U.S. to the border. He also said he asked them to “identify additional actions” the administration can take unilaterally. Those recommendations are expected by the end of the summer, and Obama said he will then implement them “without further delay.”
Earlier this year, the White House signaled it planned to announce action it can take to make the deportation process “more humane.” But it delayed the results of a review until the end of August to give the Republican-led House the political space needed to move reform in July. “I held off on pressuring them for a long time to give Speaker [John] Boehner the space he needed to get his fellow Republicans on board,” Obama said Monday.
“I take executive action only when we have a serious problem, a serious issue, and Congress chooses to do nothing,” Obama said.
Boehner informed Obama last week that the House will not vote on immigration reform this year, Obama said. The two spoke in person before a PGA event.
“In our conversation last week, I told the president what I have been telling him for months: the American people and their elected officials don’t trust him to enforce the law as written,” Boehner said in a statement. “Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue.”
The House will spend July moving to sue Obama over his use of administrative action, with Boehner arguing that the president isn’t faithfully executing the laws of the land.
And now, the crisis of unaccompanied minors coupled with unexpected events such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor losing his primary to an immigration hawk, has made the already-dim chances to move on reform this year even more unlikely.
The White House’s move to act on immigration is a semi-win for immigration advocates, who have been criticizing the administration from the left for deporting what they deem a record number of people from the U.S. They had expected some action to come this summer, but the delay in review left many frustrated.
While Obama signaled that he would take some actions to ease such deportations, the crisis at the border has pushed the White House to beef up security on the border and increase the number immigration judges to speed up removals.
In a letter sent Monday to congressional leadership, Obama wrote that the administration may seek to work with Congress to provide the Homeland Security Department with more authority to process and return unaccompanied minors from Central American countries. He also asked Congress to approve emergency funding to speed up removals, enhance border security, increase the number of immigration judges, and work with Central American nations to “address the root causes of migration.”
Much of the drastic increase in children being held at the border is due to migration from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Unlike immigrants from Mexico, these Central American children can’t immediately be returned to their countries of origin. Instead, they are turned over to the Health and Human Services Department and wait to begin deportation proceedings — which can take months.
Republicans have blamed the administration for creating the crisis at the border, saying that previous administration actions such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has encouraged young children to make the dangerous trek to the U.S.
“The president’s own executive orders have led directly to the humanitarian crisis along the southern border, giving false hope to children and their families that if they enter the country illegally they will be allowed to stay,” Boehner said after Obama’s statement. “The White House claims it will move to return these children to their families in their home countries, yet additional executive action from this president isn’t going to stem the tide of illegal crossings, it’s only going to make them worse.”
While many of the children cite violence in their countries as the main reason they are fleeing, the administration has acknowledged rumors of U.S. policy is playing a role in fueling the crisis.