By: Stephen Dinan on May 28, 2014
President Obama’s decision this week to put off any new unilateral action to halt deportations didn’t win the Republican support he’d hoped, but it did enrage his own allies among immigrant-rights advocates, who said tens of thousands of people who deserve to stay in the country will instead be kicked out over the next two months.
The White House said the delay was designed to remove the threat of unilateral administration action, giving congressional Republicans the political space to try to pass a bill legalizing illegal immigrants.
Advocates, though, doubted the tradeoff was worth it for the 1,000 or so immigrants who will be deported every day between now and the end of July.
“To say that we can wait is to be complacent with the more than 60,000 deportations that will happen between now and August,” Lorella Praeli, director of policy and advocacy for United We Dream, said in a statement Wednesday morning questioning the president’s move.
In March, under intense pressure from immigrant-rights groups, Mr. Obama ordered Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to come up with more strategies to halt deportations, building on a number of previous directives that have already made most illegal immigrants free from fear of deportation.
But Mr. Obama has now asked Mr. Johnson to hold off on any new announcements until later this summer. The White House said the goal was to give House Republicans a window to act on a bill legalizing illegal immigrants.
“We wouldn’t want to create a reason not to act or an excuse not to act,” White House press secretary Jay Carson told reporters traveling with the president Wednesday.
House Republican leaders have repeatedly said that they won’t take up immigration unless the president makes a gesture showing he is serious about enforcing the laws.
But Mr. Obama’s latest move to delay new carve-outs doesn’t qualify as new enforcement, Republicans said.
“Enforcing the law as written isn’t a ‘concession’ — it is the president’s solemn responsibility,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner. “Now isn’t the time to be playing politics with immigration enforcement or our national security.”
Mr. Obama has been trapped between both sides on immigration for years.
He has argued to conservatives that he is trying to enforce immigration laws, while telling Hispanic groups that he is only deporting serious criminals, gang members and those with repeated immigration violations on their records.
While total deportations have surged during his administration, deportations of illegal immigrants within the interior of the U.S. are down from their rate at the end of the Bush administration. Under Mr. Obama’s various directives, most illegal immigrants stand little chance of being deported.
But immigrant-rights groups want to see even fewer deported, and have argued Mr. Obama has the authority to issue a general halt to all deportations.
Advocates said they understood the motives for Mr. Obama’s latest decision to put off any new deportation carve-outs, but were disappointed nonetheless.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez said the president is denying some immigrants tools they could use right now to fight their deportations.
“He wants to wait. I can understand that. I really can. I can even respect that position,” the Illinois Democrat said in Richmond, where he was trying to put pressure on House Republicans. “But guess what? We need to fight against the deportations and we need more tools each and every day.”
He also said, however, that Mr. Obama’s move signals the administration still believes there’s a chance to get a legalization bill done this year.
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