Obama on Immigration: How He Could Foul It Up
Policy + Politics

Obama on Immigration: How He Could Foul It Up

Several months ago, President Obama postponed his promised executive action on immigration reform until after the midterm election. It was a concession to endangered Democratic senators who feared the president’s action would prompt a backlash against them in their states.

The executive action had been widely expected to scale back the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants and their children—including the thousands that recently came from Central America—and possibly offer work permits to people living in the U.S. illegally. The delay of executive action that Obama had promised back in June angered and alienated many Hispanic voters and action.

Related: GOP Wave Election Leaves Obama Friendless in D.C.

In the end, that strategy did nothing to save the Democrats from a Republican tidal wave on Tuesday that swept away at least seven Democratic senators and gave the GOP its first majority in the Senate since 2006.

Now Obama must decide whether to move ahead with his unilateral action by the end of the year or wait even longer in hopes of negotiating a compromise with the new Republican leadership over comprehensive immigration reform.

The president may signal his intentions in a post-election White House news conference later today in which he tries to put a positive spin on the Democrats’ disastrous showing at the polls. Obama has also invited Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to the White House on Friday to begin negotiating for a critical post-election session of Congress that must resolve a raft of unfinished business.

That unfinished business includes approving a new budget, debating new war powers language for the president in his battle with ISIS, disposing of judicial nominations and deciding whether to move ahead with a nomination to replace retiring Attorney General Eric Holder.

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Hispanic activists said today that new polling shows that the delay of the executive action may have hurt Democratic candidates in several key races – including Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, who was defeated by Republican Rep. Cory Gardner in a state with a substantial Latino population. Among Latino voters who didn’t vote Tuesday, 60 percent said in the new survey that Obama’s delay in issuing the executive order made them less enthusiastic about Democratic candidates.

“We have for the first time some evidence” Obama’s decision hurt his party at the polls yesterday, said Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions, the polling firm that did the survey for America’s Voice, an immigration reform advocacy group.

Related: A GOP Congress Will Face 12 Million Pleas for Immigration Reform   

Frank Sharry, executive director of the liberal America’s Voice, said in an analysis of the new survey that Obama and the Democrats “need to lean into immigration” ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign and reject GOP “hype” that Republicans are ready to tackle immigration reform legislation.

“The GOP hopes to try to intimidate the president against acting,” he added, and said Republicans intend to continue to block congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform “in hopes of depressing Latino turnout in 2016.”

Sharry may think the GOP is inventing an immigration crisis where none exists, but polls by Huffington Post, Gallup and a host of others show that a plurality of Americans do not want amnesty for illegals.

During a news conference in Louisville this afternoon, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said that it would be a serious mistake for Obama to issue the executive order rather than negotiating an immigration deal with the new GOP majority.

“It’s an issue that most of our members want to address legislatively, and it’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull, to say that if you guys don’t do what I want, I’m going to do it on my own,” he said.

Other GOP analysts are warning that Obama would dash any hope of bipartisan cooperation if he moves ahead with the executive order. Ari Fleischer, former Republican President George W. Bush’s press secretary, said this morning on CNN that unilateral action by Obama on immigration reform – including granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants and their children – would infuriate the new GOP majority. “He will ruin and poison the next two years,” Fleischer said.

Related: Election 2014 – How the Polls and Forecasters Failed

White House officials are considering two central criteria for determining deferred deportation for unauthorized immigrants, The Wall Street Journal reported last week. Those are the length of stay in the U.S. and family ties in the country. Undocumented parents of U.S. citizens, and potentially parents of those who arrived in the U.S. as children and were granted temporary relief, might qualify for protection if they meet a number of other criteria, said The Journal.

Depending on the language, this executive action could protect between one million and four million illegal immigrants. That would do far more than the administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order that was promulgated in 2012. So far it’s provided temporary protection from deportation for about 500,000 immigrants who arrived here as children.

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