President Barack Obama said he’ll go it alone on changing U.S. immigration rules because House Republicans won’t act.
“For more than a year, Republicans in the House of Representatives have refused to allow an up-and-down vote” on immigration changes, the president said at the White House yesterday. They are “unwilling to stand up to the Tea Party to do what’s best for the country.”
Obama spoke as Democratic lawmakers and activists are pressing the president to halt deportations for the almost 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the country who would benefit under a stalled Senate bill. The issue has gained attention in recent weeks as the government tries to cope with a wave of unaccompanied, undocumented children crossing the southern border with Mexico.
Obama said he’s moving forward because House Speaker John Boehner told him last week the chamber won’t vote on revamping immigration policy because Republicans don’t trust Obama to carry out laws as passed.
Obama said he realizes it will be tough to do much through executive order. Most immigration changes, he said “will still require an act of Congress,” and he’ll reach out to House Republicans to seek a path to legislation.
“I am prepared to work with them even on a bill that I don’t consider perfect,” he said.
Just hours before he said he’d work around lawmakers, Obama asked Congress for help to address the influx of unaccompanied children at the Mexico border.
The Republican-led house last year refused to vote on legislation approved by the Senate that would have cleared a path to citizenship for many in the U.S. illegally. Some House Republicans say it amounts to amnesty for undocumented immigrants.
The president said he has directed Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to move enforcement resources to the southern U.S. border, to remove undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes.
Obama also is asking advisers to find steps he can take in the next few months to change the immigration system for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who haven’t broken laws.
Boehner said the message he gave the president wasn’t new.
“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 yesterday. “Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress.”
Boehner last week said the House will sue Obama’s administration over what Republicans say is a pattern of failing to enforce laws related to issues including health care, foreign policy, energy and education.
“The president is not faithfully executing the laws of our country,” Boehner told reporters June 25. The Republican-controlled House will vote on empowering such lawsuits in July.
House Republicans have ruled out taking up immigration legislation that would require Democratic votes for passage.
“The real solution to our broken immigration system is comprehensive reform and we have been as patient as we could be with our House colleagues in giving them both time and flexibility to put forward a proposal to reform the system,” said Charles Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate.
Republican leaders outlined guidelines for piecemeal immigration legislation at their annual retreat in January, starting with increased border security and including a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
Despite months of work, including by close allies of the speaker, Republicans haven’t found an approach that could garner a majority vote from within their party.
What little momentum advocates had was killed by Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary election loss in Virginia June 10.
Cantor was branded by challenger David Brat, who was backed by the limited-government Tea Party movement, as someone who had lost touch with his district and favored amnesty for undocumented immigrants.
Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary to Republican President George W. Bush, said the night Cantor lost that it “likely means that there is no chance that immigration reform gets on the House floor this summer.”
Obama yesterday asked Congress for emergency funds and legal authority to stem undocumented immigrants -- especially children traveling without adults -- from Central American countries. He said legislation may be needed to increase penalties for people smuggling children into the U.S.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest blamed “criminal syndicates” for propagating rumors of amnesty that are leading an influx of Central American children to try to reach the U.S.
Boehner said Obama’s executive orders allowing some undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to stay in the country 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.”
The president’s request to expedite deportations drew criticism from pro-immigration and human rights groups. During a conference call with reporters yesterday, members of the groups said Obama’s proposals would in effect remove the due-process rights of children fleeing violence.
“The children will be arriving at our borders, traumatized, hungry, frightened, confused and unable to speak the language,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, which serves unaccompanied children who arrive at the U.S. border. “This is grossly unfair.”