President Obama Announces Plan to ‘Fix As Much of Our Immigration System As I Can’

In a statement Monday, he laid out a path for executive action on immigration.

Obama speaks in the Rose Garden on immigration reform on June 30, 2014 at the White House in Washington, DC.
National Journal
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Elahe Izad
June 30, 2014, 11:40 a.m.

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.


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