Dems warn Obama: Don't back down on immigration

Dems warn Obama: Don't back down on immigration
© Getty Images

Wary that President Obama might back away from vows to ease deportations unilaterally, House Democrats on Wednesday sought to hold the president’s feet to the fire.

On the first day of Congress’s return to Washington after the midterm elections, the lawmakers pressed Obama to act swiftly and decisively to reduce deportations, even in the face of Republican warnings that sidestepping Congress could undermine immigration reform legislation and sink the confirmation of Obama’s pick for attorney general.

The Democrats aren’t mincing words.

ADVERTISEMENT
“We’re begging the president — there’s urgency to this — you said you were going to do it. Go big!” Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) said Wednesday during a press briefing outside the Capitol.

Citing Tuesday’s observance of Veterans Day, Vargas urged Obama to help military families in particular — “families that have been divided because you haven’t acted yet,” he charged.

“Allow these families to live in peace,” he said.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, piled on, saying the move to keep immigrant families together is “a moral and an economic” imperative. 

“Talk is cheap. Action is what these families want,” Hoyer said. “What the president needs to do is give immediate and significant relief to those families that are being wrenched apart and living in fear. I’m proud to join my colleagues in that request.”

Since March, Obama has vowed to seek ways to make his deportation policies more “humane” for immigrant families, but he’s twice postponed any action on the issue since then. The first delay was designed to allow Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner called Trump about signing government funding bill Ex-GOP rep jests he thought reporter's accidental text was a drunk text from Boehner Gowdy front-runner to be next Oversight chairman MORE (R-Ohio) the political space to move immigration reform legislation over the summer; the second was aimed at helping a handful of centrist Senate Democrats survive reelection this month.

Neither achieved its goal.

Now, with the elections passed and the Republicans showing little interest in immigration legislation, the Democratic chorus for executive action has grown only louder. 

“We know … we need comprehensive immigration reform,” Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday, “but in the meantime we have to protect [families].”

Obama, for his part, says he has every intention of acting on the issue in the lame-duck.

“Before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system,” the president told reporters the day after the elections. “What I’m not going to do is just wait.”

But the threat of executive action has drawn howls from GOP leaders, who have long-accused Obama of abusing his authority in defiance of the Constitution and congressional intent.

Sen. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellConservative groups press Senate on ObamaCare repeal Week ahead: Trump budget coming Tuesday | CBO to unveil health bill score | House hearing on border tax Week ahead: EPA braces for Trump budget MORE (R-Ky.), who’s expected to be the Senate majority leader in the next Congress, said Obama, by doubling down on his executive action vows post-election, was “waving a red flag in front of a bull.”

And Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzGOP talks of narrowing ‘blue-slip’ rule for judges Abortion poses hurdle for Senate healthcare bill Senator's photo spurs caption contest MORE (R-Texas) and Mike LeeMike LeeAbortion poses hurdle for Senate healthcare bill GOP senators to Turkey: Apologize for DC brawl Rolling back net neutrality would hurt minorities and low-income families MORE (R-Utah), both Tea Party favorites who sit on the Judiciary Committee, are threatening to make Obama’s moves on immigration a central part of their vetting of the president’s attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch. 

“The nominee must demonstrate full and complete commitment to the law,” the Republicans said in a joint statement over the weekend. “Loretta Lynch deserves the opportunity to demonstrate those qualities, beginning with a statement on whether or not she believes the president’s executive amnesty plans are constitutional and legal.”

Hispanic Democrats and other immigrant rights advocates have long distrusted the Republicans when it comes to immigration reform, arguing that GOP leaders have no plan to take up the thorny issue ahead of the 2016 presidential election regardless of whether Obama acts alone or not.

“We’ve reached a point now that waiting and waiting and waiting is not the solution,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Wednesday. “The solution is for the president, who I support, to go big to protect all families.”

Obama, meanwhile, says there’s an easy antidote for Republicans infuriated by his promise to rein in deportations without congressional approval. 

“You send me a bill that I can sign,” he said last week, “and those executive actions go away.”