President Barack Obama is considering using executive action to let millions of undocumented immigrants obtain work permits that would allow them stay in the U.S. legally, said a Democratic Senate aide.
White House officials have told allies in Congress to expect an announcement of a large-scale action most likely in September, just before the midterm congressional elections, the aide said, asking for anonymity to discuss an unannounced plan.
Obama has said he’ll act in the absence of legislation from Congress on the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. In the House, Republican leaders have declined to bring a bill to a vote.
Administration officials in private conversations in recent weeks have been signaling a shift within the White House toward more expansive action to provide relief from deportation, according to immigration advocates.
“One thing that seems clear is that they are seriously committed to using the full extent of their legal authority to start fixing the system,” said Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington policy research group with close White House ties.
“That includes doing as much as possible to enable undocumented individuals with significant equities who have committed no serious crimes to come forward, register, undergo background checks and request temporary status,” Fitz said.
Large-scale action by Obama on immigration could improve Democrats chances of retaining control of the Senate in the November elections by energizing Hispanic voters, said Gary Segura, a political science professor at Stanford University in California and co-founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions.
The bigger impact would be on the 2016 presidential election by strengthening long-term Hispanic support for the party, he said.
Republican voters already are showing high levels of interest in this November’s election, limiting the damage action on immigration would inflict on Democrats by mobilizing opponents, Segura said.
A surge in turnout by Hispanics, who typically vote in low numbers in midterm elections, could be decisive for Democrats in the competitive Senate race in Colorado, and possibly in Georgia and North Carolina, he said.
Hispanics account for 15 percent of eligible voters in Colorado and 5 percent in both Georgia and North Carolina, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by the Center for American Progress.
Democrats would stand to make greater political gains from action by Obama on the immigration matter in the 2016 presidential election, when Hispanics typically vote in higher numbers. Obama’s order in 2012 to stop deportations of immigrants who came to the country illegally as children was “wildly popular” with Latino voters that year, Segura said.
In the 2012 race, 71 percent of Hispanics voted for Obama. Eight years earlier, then-Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry got 53 percent of the Latino vote as he lost to then-President George W. Bush, who supported revisions to immigration policy.
Deepening Democratic support in the expanding Hispanic population in key presidential battleground states “starts to create a demographic wall in the Electoral College” that determines the winner in presidential races, Segura said.
The Center for Progress analysis projects the 2016 Hispanic share of eligible voters in Florida at 20 percent, up from 17 percent in 2012; in Nevada 20 percent, up from 17 percent; in Arizona 25 percent, up from 22 percent; and in New Mexico 45 percent, up from 44 percent.
The Obama administration action on immigration is being planned concurrently with the president’s vow to return to their home countries the thousands of children who have crossed Mexico to reach the U.S. from Central America in recent months.
The humanitarian crisis on the border and the stalemate in Congress give Obama “broad permission to take what executive action we can to try to deal with the broken immigration system,” senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told reporters July 25.
Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, condemned reports of the planned executive action as an example of Obama “skirting the laws.”
“It’s one thing to want to be kind and decent and honorable and treat these folks with a great deal of respect and dignity,” Hatch said today. “But it’s another thing to break our laws in doing so, and the president doesn’t seem to care about that.”
While White House officials have told lawmakers that the presidential action will cover at least several million immigrants and could range higher, they haven’t provided a clear picture of which categories of immigrants would be protected from deportation, the Senate aide said.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to comment on what actions Obama is considering, telling reporters at his daily briefing that administration officials are “taking our time to carefully review what the existing law is and what steps it allows the president to take.”
Advocates and lawmakers have discussed a range of potential presidential actions to offer temporary relief from the threat of deportation to classes of immigrants in the country illegally.
One proposal that has gained support from some Democratic senators would expand such relief to immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens, which would mean protecting 4.4 million adults from deportation, according to a January report by the National Foundation for American Policy, a Virginia-based research group. Another proposal would include the parents of immigrants who arrived as children.
Pfeiffer said Obama asked Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to examine what executive actions could be taken on immigration and report back to him “by the end of summer.”