Immigration Delay Lands Obama in Hot Seat
Policy + Politics

Immigration Delay Lands Obama in Hot Seat

During his appearance Sunday on Meet the Press, President Obama couldn’t quite bring himself to say what is manifestly clear about his decision to postpone unilateral immigration reform action: The Democrats have far too much riding on the November election to hand Republicans additional political ammunition.

White House aides over the weekend were candid. They characterized the decision as a cold political calculation. They admitted that keeping control of the Senate was a higher priority than making good on a longstanding promise to Hispanic voters that would allow illegal immigrants and their children to stay in the U.S. under certain conditions.  

Related: Obama Won't Block Deportations Until After Election

The president pretty much bobbed and weaved about his motivations during an interview with Chuck Todd, the new host of Meet the Press. When Todd asked bluntly, “What do you tell the person that’s going to get deported before the election that this decision was essentially made in your hopes of saving a Democratic Senate?” The president replied, “Well, that’s not the reason.”

Instead, Obama blamed the postponement on what he described as the shifting public concerns about security along the U.S.-Mexico border. He suggested those concerns were heightened by media reports about the waves of unaccompanied Central American children and mothers with babies illegally crossing into this country in recent years.

“The politics did shift midsummer because of that problem,” he said, an assertion that is borne out by recent polling. And even while the flow of these illegal immigrants has slowed in recent months, Obama said, his administration must move carefully to get the policy right for simultaneously tightening border security and determining the fate of millions of illegal immigrants and their children who have lived here for years.

Related: Obama Remains a Big Drag on Democrats’ Prospects

“Even as we’re getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure the public understands why we’re doing this, why it’s the right thing for the American people, why it’s the right thing for the American economy,” he said in the interview. “I’m going to act because it’s the right thing for the country. But it’s going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration…”

Immigration reform has been among the thorniest issues facing the White House and Congress for years. For all the controversy and bitter fighting on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail in recent months, the issue appears no closer to resolution.

The Senate last year approved bipartisan legislation to tighten border security while creating a pathway to legal status or citizenship for many people currently living in the shadows. House Republicans have stubbornly opposed a comprehensive approach – especially one that hints of “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Instead, they insist the top priority should be spending more on deployment of border security personnel and a step up in processing and deporting illegal immigrants who were detained at the border.

Given the partisan gridlock, Obama pledged on June 30 that he would issue an executive order by early fall addressing the ongoing border security crisis and the fate of millions of illegal immigrants. He promised to unveil far-ranging changes to the immigration system – which wouldn’t require congressional approval – designed to potentially protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation while also providing work permits for many of them.

Related: Obama’s Dream Act Dooms Immigration Reform

The rate of formal deportations has risen under Obama, even as the overall number of people attempting to cross the border has fallen, according to a recent Wall Street Journal analysis. Two-thirds of all deportations last year stemmed from border patrol apprehensions. Some critics have dubbed Obama the “Deporter in Chief.”

Over the weekend, White House aides said the president was bowing to demands from a handful of Senate Democrats with tough reelection campaigns to postpone unilateral presidential action. Many Democrats fear another executive order by a president already charged by Republicans with repeatedly exceeding his executive authority would further rile conservatives and dash their hopes of fending off GOP challenges.

Political analysts agree an executive order at this point could hurt Democatic reelection prospects in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and a few other key battleground states. Colorado, with its large number of Hispanic voters, is one of the few states where Democrats might be helped by such presidential action.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Obama’s decision to delay “this deeply controversial and possibly unconstitutional unilateral action until after the election . . . smacks of raw politics.”

Related: Rubio’s Rightward Drift on Immigration Continues

The outrage over Obama’s decision was palpable among Hispanic leaders and legal advocates. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) told ABC News’s This Week that the White House decided on a strategy of “playing it safe” while “walking away” from their political and social values.

Artuo Carmona, executive director of Presente.0rg, a Los Angeles-based Latino advocacy group, said, “The announcement is pretty shameful and once again demonstrates that for Obama, politics comes before Latino lives,” according to The Washington Post.

“Tens of thousands of human beings are likely to be separated from their families between now and the election,” added National Council of La Raza president Janet Murguia in a statement. “These families have embraced and contributed to this country. All they ask is for a chance to get right with the law, step out of the shadows and further contribute to a nation where most of them have lived for more than a decade.”

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