Obama Immigration Reform Delay 'A Slap to Face' of Latinos
President Barack Obama will delay his long-promised action on immigration until after the November midterm elections, White House officials said on Saturday in remarks to the press that blamed “Republicans’ extreme politicisation of this issue”.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, released a statement in which he said the decision was cynical.
“He’s just saying he’ll go around the law once it’s too late for Americans to hold his party accountable in the November elections,” the statement said.
Pro-reform campaigners greeted the news as “another slap to the face of the Latino and immigrant community” and said the president and Senate Democrats had “chosen politics over people”.
Two White House officials, speaking anonymously, told reporters Obama had concluded during his flight back from this week’s Nato summit in Wales that circumventing Congress through executive actions on immigration during the election campaign would politicise the issue and hurt future efforts to pass a broad overhaul.
The officials said Obama had no specific timeline to act, but would still take executive actions before the end of the year.
One told Reuters: “The reality the president has had to weigh is that we’re in the midst of the political season.
“And because of the Republicans’ extreme politicisation of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections.”
In response, Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform groupAmerica’s Voice, said in a statement: “We are bitterly disappointed in the president and we are bitterly disappointed in the Senate Democrats. We advocates didn’t make the reform promise; we just made the mistake of believing it. The president and Senate Democrats have chosen politics over people, the status quo over solving real problems.
“To paraphrase the revolutionary writer Thomas Paine, these politicians are simply sunshine opportunists, who expect Latino voters to support them in good times, but when the going gets tough, they abandon Latinos and their issues as fast as you can say ‘piÃ±ata’.
“It is hard to believe this litany of high expectations and broken promises will be mended by the end of the year.”
Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream, said the decision was “another slap to the face of the Latino and immigrant community” and said: “Where we have demanded leadership and courage from both Democrats and the president, we’ve received nothing but broken promises and a lack of political backbone.”
A statement on the United We Dream website said: “President Barack Obama has further cemented his legacy as the #DeporterInChief by delaying the usage of his executive authority to stop the deportation of millions of immigrants.”
On Friday, three senior Democrats involved in the party’s election strategy, speaking anonymously, said the president was being urged to publicly drop his plan to take unilateral action on the issue, which with healthcare is one of the most divisive domestic issues in the US as the November elections approach.
Democrats hold the Senate while Republicans hold the House of Representatives and believe they can gain control of the upper house. Several Senate Democrats face difficult re-election campaigns.
Congressional reform of the country’s immigration system – regarding, among other issues, the status of undocumented migrants and the recentflood of undocumented children from Central America into southern states, which has developed into a humanitarian crisis – has stalled.
In July Obama asked for $3.7bn to address the border crisis. The Republican-controlled House gave the president a fraction of that total and made it easier to deport such young migrants, a provision opposed by Democrats and immigration advocates. Congress then adjourned for its August recess, which ends on Monday, without passing a final bill.
Last year, the Senate passed a broad overhaul of immigration that boosted border security, increased visas for legal immigrants and a provided a path to citizenship for immigrants illegally in the country. The House blocked it.
Obama has threatened to use executive actions to implement reform on a number of issues. In June he said he would use such powers to take action on immigration “before the end of the summer”, asking the attorney general, Eric Holder, and homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, to provide recommendations which he would “adopt … without further delay”.
The recent Labour Day holiday is generally regarded as the end of summer in the US.
On Friday, before flying back to the US from the Nato summit, Obama said he would use his flight to review his immigration options.
“We are reviewing what the next steps are,” he said. “What I am unequivocal about is that we need immigration reform, that my overriding preference is to see Congress act … but in the absence of congressional action I intend to take action.”
The officials who spoke on Saturday, on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s decision before it was announced, said Obama made his decision on the flight and called political allies from Air Force One to inform them. Obama was making more calls from the White House on Saturday, they said.
On Friday, pro-immigrant groups had called on Obama to stick to his end-of-summer deadline.
“Being a leader requires making difficult and courageous decisions,” said a letter to the president, whose signers included the National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens. “It is your time to lead, Mr President.”