Obama Vows Executive Action on Immigration After Boehner Says Congress Won't Hold Vote

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By Cheryl Bolen 
Laura D. Francis contributed to this report.

July 1 — Announcing that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has indicated that no vote on immigration legislation will take place this year, President Barack Obama said June 30 that he will take executive action, starting with moving resources from public safety and deportation to bolster border security.

“Today, I'm beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress,” the president said.

As a first step, Obama said he directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to move available and appropriate resources from the interior to the border.

The president said he also directed Johnson and Holder to identify additional actions his administration can take on its own, within legal authorities.

“I expect their recommendations before the end of the summer,” Obama said. “And I intend to adopt those recommendations without further delay,” he said.

The president initially directed Johnson in March to examine ways the administration could enforce immigration laws “more humanely,” but later put that review on hold to allow the House to move legislation.

Boehner: No Vote This Year

But Obama said June 30 that Boehner informed him the week of June 23 that Republicans won't vote on an immigration overhaul at least for the remainder of this year.

The president said he would greatly prefer for Congress to act. “I take executive action only when we have a serious problem, a serious issue, and Congress chooses to do nothing,” he said.

In response, Boehner said that, in their conversation, he told the president what he had been telling him for months: that the American people and their elected officials don't trust him to enforce the law as written.

“Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue,” Boehner said in a statement.

Senate Immigration Bill Pending

Obama pointed to the bipartisan vote in the Senate on comprehensive immigration legislation (S. 744) in June 2013 as a model for congressional action.

The Senate bill, drafted by a bipartisan group of senators known as the “gang of eight,” passed by a vote of 68-32, with 14 Republicans voting in favor. The House, however, hasn't scheduled a vote on the bill, despite predictions by the White House that it would pass.

S. 744 would overhaul the entire immigration system, including temporary and permanent employment visas at the high- and low-skill ends of the spectrum. It also would create a new W visa for low-skilled workers, a provision that was the result of a deal between the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as a new agricultural worker program. In addition, it would create a legalization program and path to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the president had no choice but to turn to executive actions. Still, there is time left in the legislative session for Congress to act, he said.

“I support him in this effort and I urge those Republican critics who claim we must first secure our border to actually read the bipartisan Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” Leahy said.

Leahy said the bill would double the number of border patrol agents and authorize the completion of a 700-mile wall at the southern U.S. border.

Use of Executive Action Disputed

Obama's announcement that he will use executive actions to address immigration comes at a rocky point in his relations with the House.

Boehner announced June 25 that he intended to move forward with a lawsuit against the president for failing to properly execute the nation's laws and for bypassing Congress through the use of executive orders.

Boehner said it was sad and disappointing that when faced with the challenge of a broken immigration system, Obama wasn't working with Congress, but instead was going it alone with executive orders that can't and won't fix the problems.

“The president's own executive orders 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,” Boehner said, speaking about the recent influx of unaccompanied minor immigrants.

Boehner referred to the administration's June 2012 memorandum establishing the deferred action for childhood arrivals program. The program, which the Department of Homeland Security renewed in early June, defers deportation and provides work authorization to young, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and who meet certain criteria, including that they have continuously resided in the country since June 2007.

A recent report from the American Immigration Council found that 59 percent of the 2,381 DACA recipients who responded to the AIC's survey indicated that they had found a new job since being approved. The report also found that 45 percent increased their earnings.

Obama argued June 30 that the current humanitarian crisis on the U.S. border only underscored the need to drop politics and fix the immigration system permanently.

“Our country and our economy would be stronger today if House Republicans had allowed a simple yes-or-no vote on this bill or, for that matter, any bill,” the president said.

Praise for Obama, Disappointment in Congress

The president's announcement that he intends to act on his own was met with both cheers and jeers by lawmakers and advocates.

“The administration has unquestionable legal authority to provide all those who would qualify for citizenship under the bipartisan Senate Bill affirmative status with work authorization while making immigration enforcement more just, as laid out in our policy statement,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a July 1 statement. He referenced a set of immigration enforcement recommendations the federation issued in April.

“The administration should act boldly and without further delay,” Trumka said.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Donohue June 30 didn't reference the president's executive actions, but instead expressed disappointment in Congress's failure to pass immigration legislation.

“Without reform, our broken immigration system continues to harm our economy, cost jobs, and undermine America's global competitiveness,” Donohue said in a statement. “This should be unacceptable to our leaders and to all American citizens.”

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who a few days earlier, using a soccer penalty reference, gave House Republicans a “red card” and said during a speech on the House floor that their opportunity to act had passed, June 30 praised Obama's decision to take action.

“The antidote for do-nothingism is doing something and the President is doing for the American people what the Republican-controlled Congress refused to do. This is the President I voted for,” he said in a statement.

President Not Enforcing Laws

But not all were happy with the president's announcement.

Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for lower immigration levels, June 30 said Obama refused to “take responsibility for an illegal immigration crisis brought about by his administration's defiant refusal to enforce our nation's immigration laws,” and rather “attempted to shift the blame to House Republicans for refusing to pass legislation that would provide even greater inducements for more people to violate our immigration laws.”

“Most importantly, the president said nothing in his Rose Garden speech that would send a clear signal that we will enforce our laws and return people who have no viable claim to be admitted,” Stein said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) expressed similar sentiments. “President Obama could quell the border crisis by halting his abuses of prosecutorial discretion, actually enforcing our immigration laws within the interior of the United States, and starting to crack down on fraudulent asylum claims—all of which he has the authority to do now,” Goodlatte said in a statement.

“Many members of the House want to fix our immigration laws but President Obama's continued abuse of his ‘pen and phone' to act unilaterally has undermined our efforts and has also caused a trust deficit with the American people,” he continued. “By threatening more unilateral actions this summer while failing to address the issue of border security, President Obama will only worsen the crisis at the border and will further undermine Americans' faith in the President's ability to lead.”

Laura D. Francis contributed to this report.

To contact the reporter on this story: Cheryl Bolen in Washington at cbolen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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