Obama Opens Immigration Push as Republicans Plot a Response

U.S. President Barack Obama announces his executive order on immigration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014

Photographer: Jim Bourg/Pool via Bloomberg

President Barack Obama is promoting his immigration initiative with a stop in Las Vegas yesterday and another in Chicago next week, working to counter opposition from House Speaker John Boehner, who vowed Republicans will challenge his use of executive authority.

While Congress is on recess next week, Obama will be rallying public support for his action to halt deportations for some undocumented immigrants as he’s sandwiched between critics who say he’s overreaching and others -- including a heckler in yesterday’s audience -- who say he’s not doing enough.

“Our immigration system has been broken for a very long time and everybody knows it,” Obama said yesterday at Del Sol High School, where about two-thirds of the students are Hispanic. He called on Congress to pass an immigration bill for him to sign as Boehner, an Ohio Republican, focused instead on blocking Obama’s actions.

Returning to the Las Vegas school where two years ago he began a push for legislation on immigration, Obama said the steps he outlined Nov. 20 to give a temporary reprieve to about 5 million people in the U.S. illegally don’t go far enough and legislation must be passed to finish the job.

Obama’s action has reignited a long-simmering battle with Republicans over how to change the nation’s immigration laws to deal with the estimated 11.4 million people already in the country illegally.

‘Sabotaged’ Chances

Boehner told reporters in Washington yesterday that making changes without congressional agreement “damages the presidency” and in doing so Obama “deliberately sabotaged” chances for enacting the bipartisan immigration legislation.

“We will not stand idle as the president undermines the rule of law in our country and places lives at risk,” Boehner said without specifying what measures the House may take.

The House left yesterday for recess until Dec. 1, leaving Obama with the platform next week. He plans to travel to Chicago on Nov. 25 to meet with community leaders there to tout his immigration plan.

Obama yesterday said that it wasn’t simply an issue for Hispanics, an increasingly important voting bloc in elections. He pointed to some Irish and Polish immigrants in Chicago “whose papers aren’t in order.”

Obama also criticized Boehner, saying he had tried to persuade him to bring a Senate-passed immigration bill up in the House for a vote.

“I cajoled and I called and I met,” Obama said. “I told John Boehner I’d -- yes, I’ll wash your car, I’ll walk your dog, whatever you need to do, just call the bill. That’s how democracy is supposed to work.”

Not Enough

Obama was interrupted by an audience member who said he and some other undocumented immigrant won’t be helped by the executive actions.

“I heard you and what I’m saying is we’re still going to have to pass a bill,” Obama said. “This is just a first step.”

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Obama will travel across the country to try to win broader public support and to keep pressure on Republicans to act on legislation, as will members of his cabinet. Obama also plans to sit for interviews, including one with ABC’s “This Week” program scheduled for broadcast tomorrow.

Republicans will use next week’s congressional recess to determine whether they can unite around a strategy. Democrats control the Senate until January, and even when Republicans take over, they’ll need Democrats to reach the 60 votes needed to advance most major legislation.

Targeting Funding

Some Republicans, including Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who is in line to become Budget Committee chairman, have said Congress has the power to block spending for the agencies that would carry out Obama’s immigration order.

Government funding expires Dec. 11, and lawmakers must make new appropriations or risk a shutdown.

Obama won’t sign any funding legislation blocking his initiative, Pfeiffer said yesterday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

Obama yesterday on Air Force One signed two presidential memorandums, one to create task forces to look at how to integrate new Americans and another on finding better ways to allocate visas. The other steps will be carried out administratively and don’t require his signature.

Obama’s directive will defer for three years deportation for people who came to the U.S. as children and for parents of children who are citizens or legal permanent residents.

Visa Process

The Department of Homeland Security will streamline the visa process for foreign workers and their employers and give high-skilled workers a more flexible work authorization. DHS also will expand options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet criteria for creating jobs, and for graduates of U.S. universities in science and technology fields.

While Obama’s actions amount to the most sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration system in a generation, they don’t go as far as the legislation that passed the Senate last year and stalled in the House. They won’t create an easier path to citizenship for those affected.

Obama doesn’t expect Congress to send him immigration legislation soon, though he still hopes there will eventually be a bill for him to sign, said Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House domestic policy council.

“He’s willing to have a bipartisan conversation that results in fixing the immigration system,” Munoz told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Nevada.

Economic Arguments

Part of the argument the administration is using to try to win over critics is economic. A White House Council of Economic Advisers analysis released yesterday concluded the immigration changes would boost economic output by 0.4 to 0.9 percent over 10 years or add $90 billion to $210 billion to gross domestic product.

Obama is also trying to show he’s on solid legal ground for his actions, both by leaving out changes that the administration couldn’t justify and by pointing to precedent set by presidents including Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

“This isn’t something I’m doing as if it’s never been done,” he said. “This kind of thing has been done before.”

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