Obama looks to act alone on immigration overhaul

Lesley Clark

President Barack Obama plans to go it alone to revise the nation’s broken immigration laws, he said Monday, charging that Republican obstructionism has left him no choice.

Obama said he’d asked Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to recommend by summer’s end steps he can take unilaterally.

The move comes as the president is under fire from immigration advocates for record deportations and for pushing the speedier removal of Central American children, who have been overwhelming the Southwestern border. But Obama said the crisis at the border only underscored the need to rewrite immigration laws.

“The problem is that our system is so broken, so unclear that folks don’t know what the rules are,” the president said.

The decision to move unilaterally came after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, made it clear that Republicans in the House of Representatives won’t take up immigration legislation this year, Obama said.

“I take executive action only when we have a serious problem, a serious issue, and Congress chooses to do nothing,” the president said from the Rose Garden. “And in this situation, the failure of House Republicans to pass a darn bill is bad for our security, it’s bad for our economy and it’s bad for our future.”

The Senate passed a sweeping immigration bill a year ago last Friday, and Obama said he wanted to give Boehner space to get his fellow Republicans on board to support the measure. But the president said Republicans had “proven again and again that they’re unwilling to stand up to the tea party” and Boehner told him last week that Republicans wouldn’t bring an immigration bill to the floor for at least the remainder of this year.

Boehner said he’d told Obama the same thing he’d been telling him for months, that “the American people and their elected officials don’t trust him to enforce the law as written.”

Boehner said the president’s decision two years ago to let some children of immigrants who were in the country illegally stay in the U.S. had led to the crisis at the border and that further executive orders would make the situation worse.

“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,” said Boehner, who said last week that he planned to sue Obama for what the House speaker contends is an overreach of presidential executive authority.

“As the Supreme Court reminded us this week, under our Constitution there are sharp limits to what the president can accomplish if he ignores the American people and their elected representatives,” Boehner said, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision Monday exempting certain companies from providing birth-control services required under Obama’s 2010 health care law.

The president noted in his remarks that if Republicans were concerned about him taking too many executive actions, they should pass legislation.

“Pass a bill. Solve a problem,” he said.

The remarks came several hours after the White House asked Congress for a “surge of resources” – estimated at $2 billion – to strengthen the border and more speedily process the thousands of unaccompanied children who’ve flooded over it, seeking refuge from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Obama said he’d also asked Johnson and Holder to move “available and appropriate” resources from the interior to the border.

The White House has attributed part of the problem to violence and poverty in the region. Obama dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to the region two weeks ago to meet with leaders and look for solutions. The president said Secretary of State John Kerry also would meet with those leaders Tuesday and that the administration was working on new steps to go after smugglers.

Obama, who’s come under sharp criticism from immigration advocates who backed his political campaign, stopped in at a White House meeting of such advocates before his remarks, and several watched from the White House portico as he spoke.

But Presente.org executive director Arturo Carmona said Latinos “want more than words from President Obama.” He said his group wanted the president to stop deportations, and he criticized Obama for responding to the influx of children at the border “with a militarized border patrol and ramped-up deportations.”

The president has said he can’t stop deportations on his own, and he acknowledged Monday that his executive action has its limits.

“Even with aggressive steps on my part, administration action alone will not adequately address the problem,” he said. “The reforms that will do the most to strengthen our businesses, our workers and our entire economy will still require an act of Congress.”

By Lesley Clark
McClatchy Washington Bureau