WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced Monday he’s done waiting for the House of Representatives to pass an immigration bill, and plans to take executive action to change deportation policies.
In remarks from the White House, Obama said that given the House’s decision not to move forward with a bill, he will act on his own, refocusing resources to border enforcement and looking into changes he can make to deportation policy.
“If Congress will not do their jobs, at least we can do ours,” he said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told Obama last week that his chamber would not vote this year on immigration reform, Obama said. The Senate passed a comprehensive bill one year ago, but Boehner quickly said he would not allow a vote on that legislation. He did, however, say the House would work to address immigration reform in its own way.
Meanwhile, Democrats and immigration reform advocates urged Obama to slow deportations, which hit a record high in the 2012 fiscal year. Although the high numbers have also come with an increased focus on priorities set by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (such as convicted criminals and repeat border-crossers), advocates say there’s plenty to be done that would make the process more humane for people with longstanding ties to the country.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had been workingon a review of deportation policies, but it was put on holdin May at the president’s request, to give the House time to pass its own bill — to no avail.
Boehner said in a statement that he told Obama last week it would be tough for the House to move forward given distrust of the president. They spoke last week at a reception celebrating American golf players.
“Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue,” he said. “The crisis at our southern border reminds us all of the critical importance of fixing our broken immigration system. It is sad and disappointing that –- faced with this challenge –- President Obama won’t work with us, but is instead intent on going it alone with executive orders that can’t and won’t fix these problems.”
Republicans have been critical of Obama’s previous executive actions on immigration, claiming he subverted the law by giving relief to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Boehner is currently planning a lawsuit against Obama for executive overreach, which may include that immigration action.
Obama said that if House Republicans don’t want him to take executive action, they should pass legislation.
“If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, the best solution to that is to passing bills,” he said. “Pass a bill. Solve a problem. Don’t just say no on something that everybody agrees needs to be done.”
The president announced he will send more resources to the border to detain and deport undocumented immigrants, although interior enforcement will continue as well. The border has increasingly become a point of contention given the current influx of unaccompanied minors crossing illegally. The White House requested $2 billion from Congress to deal with the crisis, and for the authority to “fast track” screenings and deportations of unaccompanied minors.
Obama criticized Republicans who say they can’t do anything on immigration because of the crisis, and said they’re using it as “their newest excuse.”
“Their argument seems to be that because the system is broken, we shouldn’t make an effort to fix it,” he said. “It makes no sense. It’s not on the level. It’s just politics, plain and simple.”
Sam Stein contributed reporting.
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