President Obama announced Monday that in the absence of congressional action, he plans to move forward with his own executive actions to address the long-stymied issue of immigration reform.
Although the president vowed to continue to work with any congressional Republicans who were willing to work on bipartisan legislation, his decision to move forward with executive actions seemed to be an implicit acknowledgment that the prospects for an immigration reform bill passing during his second term are bleak.
In a statement made in the White House Rose Garden, Obama said that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had informed him last week that the House GOP caucus would not take up legislation this year to address the status of 11 million undocumented immigrants or any of the other myriad issues involving the country's immigration system, widely acknowledged to be broken.
Last summer, the Senate passed a comprehensive bipartisan bill that provided a path of citizenship for many of the undocumented, poured more resources into border security and addressed business and labor concerns pertaining to immigration. The legislation, however, has languished in the Republican-controlled House, where GOP leaders, after signaling their initial support for taking up the issue on a piecemeal basis, have been unable to corral their most conservative members behind the cause.
Obama, as he has done in the past, scolded congressional Republicans Monday for what he termed putting politics before good policy, that had the support of the majority of the American public.
“As we speak there are enough Republicans and Democrats in the House to pass an immigration bill today. I would sign it into law today. And Washington would solve a problem in a bipartisan way,” Obama said. “But for more than a year, Republicans in the House of Representatives have refused to allow an up or down vote on that Senate bill or any legislation for that matter to fix our broken immigration system.”
“Instead they have proven again and again that they are unwilling to stand up to the tea party to do what is best for the country,” he said. “The worst part of it is a bunch of them know better.”
Obama said as an initial step, he would be directing Director of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to direct enforcement resources from the interior to the border. The intended effect is to presumably reduce the breakneck pace of deportations, as immigration advocates have been agitating for for months.
The president also said he has tasked Johnson and Holder to come up with additional recommendations for executive actions he can take on immigration “within [his] existing legal authority” to address some of the problems by the end of the summer.
The move by the Obama administration is sure to raise more GOP hackles, as Republicans have long criticized the president for bypassing Congress and too liberally exercising his executive authority. Obama appeared to already be anticipating the criticism.
“I don’t prefer taking administrative action, I’d rather see permanent fixes,” he said. “Pass a bill, solve a problem. Don't just say no.”
Obama’s statement also came on the heels of the White House announcing that it would seek more than $2 billion to address the humanitarian crisis of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally since late last year.
While Obama argued that the situation was a direct result of the nation’s convoluted, broken immigration system, Republicans have been using the situation as an example of why Obama’s executive actions, particularly for the children of undocumented immigrants, the so-called DREAMers, have encouraged more illegal activity.
“The crisis at our southern border reminds us all of the critical importance of fixing our broken immigration system,” Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. “It is sad and disappointing that — faced with this challenge — President Obama won't work with us, but is instead intent on going it alone with executive orders that can't and won't fix these problems.”