WASHINGTON–With Democratic control of the Senate at risk, President Barack Obama has decided to delay issuing executive orders on immigration until after the election, the White House announcedonSaturday morning.
Republicans need to pick up six seats to control the chamber and vulnerable Democrats are nervous about the backfire potential of any executive order in the harshly partisan political environment. While issuing executive actions before the election could boost turnout in some areas, over all, the political risk–and damage to the long-term prospects for changes in immigration policies–was seen as too great to do before November.
The decision represents a major reversal: Obama had been promising to issue executive orders by the end of September, with the timetable reaffirmed by the White House late last month. But the White House thinking about the self-imposed deadline changed because the president“wants to insure that whatever he does is sustainable,” a senior White House official told the Chicago Sun-Times and that would be made very difficult if the GOP takes over the Senate.
The president told his advisors when it comes to issuing the orders, however, “it is not a matter of if, but when.”
Obama was poised to take action–mainly to deal with the rising number of deportations on his watch–and bypass Congress in the wake of House Republicans refusing to call any immigration related bill. Senate Democrats passed a bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform bill more than a year ago. If the GOP wins the Senate, there is the realistic risk that comprehensive bill would die.
The decision came after White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and domestic policy chief Cecilia Munoz in the past weekmade calls and held meetings with the various stakeholdergroups includingimmigrant advocates, the business community and faith based groups. “In the last 10 days or so,” I was told, “the president was thinking this through.”
Rep. Luis Gutierrez D-Ill., a national leader on immigration who has been critical of Obama on the rising number of deportations on his watch, had been urging the White House not to delay an order because of the elections. After the announcement, several groups pushing Obama for action–and allied with Democrats, such as the SEIU,said they were disappointed with the president.
In a statement, a White House official said, “the President has made clear that while nothing replaces Congress acting on comprehensive immigration reform, given the House Republicans’ refusal to act for over a year, the President will use his executive authority to take significant steps to reform our broken immigration system.
“The President wants to do this in a way that is sustainable for the long-term, that is most effective and good for the country. 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 politicization 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. Because he wants to do this in a way that’s sustainable, the President will take action on immigration before the end of the year.
“For example, we have seen how Republicans have fought hard to exploit the humanitarian situation at the Rio Grande Valley. But the President was focused on fixing the problem and taking steps to address the issue, and now the number of unaccompanied minors entering along the southwest border has steadily decreased- July numbers were about half of what they were in June. August was even lower: lower than last August and the lowest month since February 2013. The border is more secure than ever before –without any help from Republicans in Congress who obstructed the Administration’s request for additional resources to deal with this problem.
“The President has had many conversations and consultations throughout this process – including with his Cabinet, members of Congress, stakeholders, and advocates on this issue. The President is confident in his authority to act, and he will before the end of the year. But again, nothing will replace Congress acting on comprehensive immigration reform and the President will keep pressing Congress to act.”
In reaction to Obama kicking immigration actions down the road,Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) President, Mary Kay Henry, and Executive Vice President, Rocio Saenz, said in a statement, “Today, we are deeply disheartened that the dreams of hard-working immigrant families who have long contributed to the fabric of the American life remain in jeopardy. The White House’s decision to delay executive action forces countless families to continue to wait in the shadows of fear.
“We are deeply disappointed but not paralyzed.
“By far, this isn’t the end game. Immigration reform has and always will be our future. While the president will continue to hear from us, Congress will feel the pressure of a growing electorate.
“We haven’t forgotten how we first got here. Republicans failed the American people by refusing to vote on meaningful immigration reform. Holding them accountable in November is a promise that we intend to keep.
“We know that whatever administrative action the president takes in the future will only be temporary. Whether it’s at the polls or on the streets, we’ll make sure immigration reform becomes a reality.The factor of change is us—the Latino, immigrant, African American and immigration reform voter. And we refuse to become victims of ‘wait’ and the status quo.”
Here’s the Senate breakdown:
Majority Party: Democrat (53 seats)
Minority Party: Republican (45 seats)
Other Parties: 2 Independents (both caucus with the Democrats)