By Zachary A. Goldfarb and David Nakamura June 30 at 3:16 PM Follow @Goldfarb Follow @davidnakamura
President Obama acknowledged Monday that there is no hope for legislation overhauling the immigration system in Congress this year and announced he is redirecting immigration enforcement from the interior of the United States to the border.
The action, which beefs up efforts to stem illegal immigration across the border but could slow efforts to deport undocumented immigrants already in the country, is one of series of executive actions Obama will pledge since the House decided not to take up immigration legislation this year.
The announcement represents the ends of hopes in the White House and elsewhere that the House might pursue legislation to strengthen the nation’s borders and immigration enforcement while also providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The Senate passed such a bill last year.
Last week, leading Democrats and even some Republican supporters of comprehensive immigration reform declared the effort dead on Capitol Hill, blaming the House GOP for standing in the way after the Senate passed sweeping legislation to overhaul border laws last year. The White House said that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told Obama last week that the House will not vote on immigration this year.
That prompted advocates to turn their attention back to the White House, calling on Obama to speed up an internal review of deportation enforcement policies that he had put on hold until after the summer while waiting for the House to act on legislation.
Democrats and advocates have urged Obama to significantly expand a 2012 decision to defer the deportations of young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. That decision has provided legal protections for more than 500,000 people, who are allowed to work and remain in the country for two-year periods that are renewable.
Obama has stated repeatedly that he is legally unable to expand that program, but aides have said White House officials are reviewing all options to make immigration laws more “humane.”
During his reelection campaign, Obama professed hope that Republicans would finally back a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws, bowing both to business interests and the growing political importance of Latino voters. Some hoped that might occur this summer, after Republican primaries ended, or perhaps in the lame-duck session following the mid-term elections.
But Republicans in the House have decided against any action, citing their lack of faith in Obama to properly carry out new immigration laws.
According to the White House statement, Obama will now direct Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to beef up border security.
“Protecting public safety is and will remain a top priority, and we will continue to focus on removing those who have committed serious crimes from our interior,” the statement said. “But we will redirect other resources to make sure we keep doing what it takes to keep our border secure.
Obama also has directed his administration by the end of the summer to find additional steps he can take without Congress “to fix as much of our broken immigration system as we can.”
The Obama administration announced earlier Monday that it will ask Congress for emergency funding and new statutory authority to stem a surge of undocumented women and children from Central America coming into the country illegally along the south Texas border. Officials have said they will seek more than $2 billion for additional border patrol agents, immigration judges and detention facilities to help deport the immigrants more quickly.
The move has outraged human rights and immigration advocates, who have criticized the administration for potentially sending the women and children back to countries with escalating gang violence. Most of the influx of 52,000 unaccompanied children and 39,000 women with children who have been apprehended on the border this year are coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
But the administration’s announcement that Obama will simultaneously pursue administration actions that could slow deportations and provide administrative relief to immigrants who have been living here without documentation for years could offset some of the concerns.
On a conference call earlier Monday, some advocates expressed doubt about such a strategy.
“We will not sacrifice these children [on the border] in hopes of some reform or administrative relief,” said Kevin Appleby, migration policy director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “These issues should be addressed separately and humanely. I know that’s not how Washington works sometimes, but our job is to protect these children regardless of politics.”
In his remarks Monday, Obama will reaffirm that nothing can replace Congressional action to overhaul immigration laws.
“The unwillingness of the Congressional Republicans to cast an up-or-down vote over the past year has not only meant inaction on reform, but has also meant less resources to strengthen our borders,” the statement said.
In a letter to Congress on Monday, Obama called on lawmakers to help the administration build an “aggressive deterrence strategy” to deal with the influx of women and children entering the United States illegally from Central America.
“I am writing ... to request that the Congress support the new tools and resources we need,” Obama said in the letter notifying congressional leaders that his administration will send a detailed proposal to Capitol Hill next week.
“This surge of resources will mean that cases are processed fairly and as quickly as possible,” Obama wrote, “ensuring the protection of asylum seekers and refugees while enabling the prompt removal of individuals who do not qualify for asylum or other forms of relief from removal.”
“We appreciate the update from the White House, but there are too few details – at this point – to determine whether their proposal would be effective,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner . “We await the actual request.”