By Mike Lillis - 06/27/14 06:00 AM EDT
A growing chorus of House Democrats is calling on President Obama to take immediate steps to rein in deportations.
The president has delayed any executive action on the issue to allow House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) more time and political space to move immigration reform legislation this summer.
But with GOP leaders showing no appetite for bringing any such bills to the floor, more and more Democrats want Obama to expedite a unilateral response in the name of keeping immigrant families together.
Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) who represents a border district, agreed that the issue demands more urgency from the president.
"He needs to be looking at it now," Vela said Thursday, predicting no action in the House this year. "We have no Republican bills, whatsoever."
Democrats are not speaking entirely with one voice on the issue, however. Many party leaders are backing Obama's delay in the hope that Boehner will launch a last-minute effort to take up immigration legislation this year.
"I’m hopeful," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday, during a news briefing to mark the anniversary of the Senate passing its immigration reform bill. "I believe that the Speaker is of good faith on this."
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed, arguing that Democrats "have always said that the deadline for getting a bill done feasibly is July 31."
"Are the chances very small? Very small," Schumer said Thursday. "But … hope springs eternal. Maybe Speaker Boehner would come to his senses."
Other liberals are running out of patience with that strategy.
Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas), the chairman of the CHC, has long been critical of Obama's delayed action. Last month, he called on the president “to reconsider.” And this week, he said leading Hispanic lawmakers will amplify that message in a coming visit to the White House.
"I told him that we'd give him time, so we should be going to the White House soon," Hinojosa said Wednesday.
The huge surge of immigrant children crossing the southern border complicates the issue for Obama.
While Democrats have framed the issue as a humanitarian crisis highlighting the need for congressional action on immigration reform, Republicans say it represents a failure of leadership in the White House — and another reason Obama can't be trusted to enforce current laws, let alone to manage sweeping new reforms.
Boehner said this week that Obama's approach to the crisis has made it "harder and harder" for GOP leaders to move an immigration bill.
"We've got a humanitarian disaster on the border — most of it, at the president's own making," Boehner told reporters Tuesday. "And so it makes our jobs much more difficult because of the actions he's taken or not taken with regard to the border."
Immigration reformers on and off of Capitol Hill have attacked that argument, accusing GOP leaders of using the border crisis as the latest in a long line of excuses not to confront an issue that sharply divides their conference.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), Congress's loudest proponent of a bipartisan approach to comprehensive reform, said the accusations swirling around the border crisis are a sign that Republicans have no interest in moving immigration legislation this year. On Wednesday, he urged Obama to address the issue himself.
"You’re done. Leave the field," Gutiérrez said of the Republicans. "Too many flagrant offenses and unfair attacks and too little action while you run out the clock. You are out.
"It is now up to the president to act."
Many Democrats and immigration reformers want Obama to expand his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — a two-year-old initiative allowing some high-achieving illegal immigrants brought to the United States as kids to stay in the country and work without fear of deportation — to include adults as well.
In March, Obama asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to review the agency's deportation policies in search of ways to make them more "humane." He subsequently asked that the findings be delayed until August to allow House Republicans more time to act on broader reforms.
The DACA program has been a lightning rod of Republican criticism, fueling the charges that Obama has overstepped his constitutional authority.
On Wednesday, Boehner announced that he'll soon unveil legislation empowering the House to sue Obama for that alleged abuse of power.
The coming lawsuit has only heightened the sense among many Democrats that GOP leaders will ignore the immigration reform issue ahead of November's midterm elections. The Democrats are trying to frame the debate so that Republicans take full blame for the failure of Congress to act.
"If something is not done by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives during the month of July," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday, "the sole blame, without any conditions or suggestion of minimization, would be [on] the Republicans."