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
Elahe Izadi
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.”{{ BIZOBJ (video: 5056) }}

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.{{ BIZOBJ (video: 5055) }}

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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