Angst grows over Obama’s plans for action on immigration

Angst over President Obama's post-election plans on immigration is growing amid revelations that the Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has issued a procurement request for as many as 34 million work permits and green cards.

The solicitation, discovered by Breitbart News, says bidders must be able to produce at least 4 million cards annually over a five year contract and “surge” to provide as many as 9 million documents in the early years of the contract. 

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That would far exceed current levels at which both documents are issued by the federal government, prompting Republicans to speculate the Obama administration is readying a sprawling executive order that could offer legal status to millions of illegal immigrants.

“This revelation provides startling confirmation of the crisis facing our Republic,” said Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrump hopes for boost from Brexit vote GOP senators: Brexit vote a wake-up call Sessions warns of 'radical' Clinton immigration policy MORE (R-Ala.) “The president is preparing to issue work authorization and ‘legal’ status to millions of individuals illegally present in the country, in violation of plain statute.”

The Alabama lawmaker added that the executive action looked poised to “nullify the immigration laws of the United States and its sovereign people.”

Similar speculation has lit up the conservative blogosphere, with many seeing it as an early sign of the administration’s plans after the midterm elections.

Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, told Watchdog.org the president appears “to be getting his ducks in a row” before offering amnesty to illegal immigrants.

“It’s another petulant display of contempt of Congress,” he said.

President Obama postponed action on immigration until after the election, saying he was worried that acting in the summer could politicize the issue. The move was also seen as a gift to vulnerable Senate Democrats who were worried executive action could motivate Republican voters to turn out at the polls.

But the White House on Wednesday insisted suggestions the procurement order was a precursor to the president’s executive action were “crazy” and “too clever.”

“The fact of the matter is, there are still decisions to be made about what that policy will entail, and when we’re ready to announce that policy, we will announce it,” press secretary Josh Earnest said. “What I would caution you against doing is making assumptions about what will be in those announcements based on the procurement practices of the Department of Homeland Security.”

USCIS said in a statement that asking contractors to prepare for contingencies was not unusual, and noted that similar provisions were baked into other contracts bid by the agency. 

“Solicitations of this nature are frequent practice for all USCIS contracts and allow the agency to be prepared for fluctuations in the number of immigration applications received, which can arise for any number of reasons,” USCIS spokesman Chris Bently said in a statement.

The federal government typically uses such provisions to keep costs down in case of unforeseen circumstances. In recent months, “surge” provisions have been included in USCIS solicitations for contractors to provide security at facilities across the country or administrative support for the agency's file management systems.

And many stories on the procurement request have overstated how many individuals could access the identification cards, even if the president did take sweeping action. 

Work permits, which cover nonresidents who are granted permission to work in the United States on temporary visas, like those for high-tech or skilled workers, are issued annually. 

That means a single recipient could receive up to five work permits over the life of the contract. And the USCIS already processed 862,000 such cards over the first six months of the year.

The contract also covers green cards, which are offered to immigrants who have been legally granted permanent residency. The U.S. issues a maximum of 480,000 immediate relative visas per year.

But those figures are still substantially less than the maximums mandated in the request for proposal, and those suspicious of the president’s motives say it remains an unambiguous signal that the president plans sweeping action on immigration.

Support for executive action on immigration does not poll as well as immigration legislation approved by Congress, and the White House has offered no specifics on its post-election plans.

An Economist/YouGov survey released earlier this month showed 53 percent of Americans disapproved of the president’s handling of immigration — worse than any other policy issue.

Still, senior presidential adviser Dan Pfeiffer told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast earlier this year that Obama would proceed with a “very significant” executive action.

And the president himself has hinted that he could look to expand access to work visas and green cards. 

Business and immigration organizations have presented the White House with a proposal that would dramatically expand the green card program for high-tech workers and the relatives of existing U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

They've suggested altering how the federal government issues green cards and specialty visas. Rather than counting each individual family member against the overall cap, the government could instead only count the head of a family — and not siblings, spouses or children.

During a town hall with technology entrepreneurs in Los Angeles earlier this month, the president suggested such a plan might be within the realm of possibility. 

“I will use all the executive authority that I legally have in order to make fixes in some of the system,” Obama said. “And that includes potentially making the H1B system that is often used by tech companies and some of the other elements of our legal immigration system more efficient, so we can encourage more folks to stay here.”

This post was corrected Oct. 24 at 5:55 p.m.