President Obama is expected to take executive action to help illegal immigrants stay in the country while Congress is away on a five-week recess, pro-immigrant advocates said Saturday.
Obama and his allies believe his authority to act without legislative approval has been strengthened by congressional gridlock over comprehensive reform.
“I’ve heard not to expect anything until toward the end of August. They’ve been listening to suggestions by advocates over what could be done. The president has yet to make a decision about what steps he plans to take,” said Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the president makes some kind of announcement before the end of August, prior to the Congress returning.”
A vote in the House Friday to speed the deportation of unaccompanied minors from Central America and halt Obama’s 2012 executive order deferring action on illegal immigrants who came to the country at a young age has hardened the resolve of groups pressing for executive action.
“After what the House GOP did yesterday, it marks a long stream of failures to deal with the issue or deal with it responsibly. They have reaffirmed time and time again that the president needs to stem in and we believe that, the president needs to step in,” said Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, deputy vice president of advocacy and legislation at the National Council of La Raza.
“They have said since earlier this year that they were going to look at the end of the summer if Congress didn’t move,” she added. “The deportation issue has been something that’s been in people’s mind for a very long time."
Pro-immigrant advocates have loudly complained about the pace of deportations during Obama’s tenure, dubbing him the “deporter-in-chief.”
Obama told reporters Friday the lack of action by the House on comprehensive reform has opened the door for him to act unilaterally.
“Even though they’ve been sitting on a bipartisan immigration bill for over a year, House Republicans suggested that since they don't expect to actually pass a bill that I can sign, that I actually should go ahead and act on my own to solve the problem,” he said.
He pledged to take executive action this month to address a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America who have been apprehended on the Texas border.
Senior Democratic senators such as Bob Menendez (N.J.) have called on Obama to halt deportations of illegal immigrants whose immediate family members are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
Menendez said last week the president should act soon because House Republicans made it clear “they [are] not going to have a vote on immigration reform,” calling that signal a “trigger moment.”
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, “the sooner, the better.”
Pro-immigrant groups have presented Obama with other options for executive action.
One proposal would have him drop the three- and 10-year waiting periods for immigrants applying for permanent legal residence after having lived in the United States illegally.
Immigrants with less than one year of illegal residence must leave the country and are barred from returning for a period of three years while they wait for their applications to process. The 10-year bar applies to immigrants who have lived in country illegally for more than a year.
These restrictions have made it extremely difficult for immigrants who are married to a U.S. citizen or sponsored by an employer to obtain legal status since prospective applicants are often unwilling to leave the United States such long times.
The federal government currently may waive these requirements if an applicant demonstrates they would impose extreme hardship.
“There are all kinds of things the president can do to help out different categories of immigrants,” Wilkes said. “We suggested things that would help people get around the bars to admissibility because there are a lot of folks that have a legal process to apply for and haven’t been able to do so because of the bars to admissibility.”
Martínez-De-Castro said Obama has the authority to empower immigration officials to use more discretion over whether defer deportation proceedings against illegal residents who have otherwise followed the law or have long-standing ties to the country.
“The hope is that the president uses executive action within his authority to establish a case-by-case process where they continue be able to prioritize national security and public safety and not focus on people who mean no harm and have very established roots in the community,” she said.
She said the president through unilateral action can reform the immigration system as much as possible to reflect the goals of the comprehensive immigration reform bill Senate Democrats and 14 Senate Republicans passed last year.