Several senior House liberals are cheering President Obama this week after his administration proposed new rules making it easier for some illegal immigrants to remain in the country while they apply for citizenship.
"The President deserves credit for setting in place another essential building block through administrative action — moving us closer to a common sense immigration policy — that puts America, its families and its economy first," Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Health Care — FDA panel backs boosters for some, but not all Biden administration announces federal support for patients, abortion providers in Texas Biden administration releases B in COVID-19 relief for providers MORE (Calif.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Friday in a statement.
The announcement represents another in a string of moves by Obama to make good on campaign promises to Hispanics — an ever-growing voting bloc that helped put him into the White House in 2008.
Hispanic leaders on and off of Capitol Hill have been critical of the president for adopting a tough stance on deportations since he took office. Several recent rules making the process more lenient — including Friday's proposal — seem designed to re-energize those voters ahead of this year's tough presidential contest.
Under current law, illegal immigrants interested in becoming legal residents must leave the country while they negotiate the application process. The new proposal, unveiled Friday by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), would allow U.S. citizens to apply for "hardship waivers" on behalf of their undocumented relatives.
The proposal, according to a DHS summary, "is intended to reduce the time that U.S. citizens are separated from immediate relatives who are required to remain outside the United States for immigrant visa application processing and during the adjudication of waivers of inadmissibility."
Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis Vicente GutierrezBiden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic primary fight shifts to South Carolina, Nevada Democrats rally behind incumbents as Lipinski takes liberal fire MORE (D-Ill.), perhaps the most vocal supporter of immigrant rights on Capitol Hill, welcomed the change with open arms.
"When people ask 'Why don't immigrants here illegally leave and come back the right way?' this is one of the main reasons why even the wives and husbands of U.S. service members are prevented from doing so by this bureaucratic straightjacket," Gutierrez said in a statement.
"This step will ease that somewhat, but only for the immediate family of U.S. citizens who already qualify for legal status," he said.
Still, the move is also sure to ruffle more feathers among Republicans, who are already blasting the president for sidestepping the will of Congress with administrative policy changes — most recently Wednesday's recess appointments of figures to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board.
“President Obama and his administration are bending long established rules to put illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of American citizens and legal immigrants,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) in a statement. “This proposal from the Obama administration comes with no surprise considering their abuse of administrative powers. President Obama has already granted backdoor amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants without a vote of Congress.
“It seems President Obama plays by his own rules to push unpopular policies on the American people. Congress has defeated amnesty attempts several times in recent years. And according to a recent poll, two-thirds of Americans want to see immigration laws enforced, not ignored. Who is the President batting for — illegal immigrants or the American people?” Smith said.
The moves seem to indicate a shift to the left for a president who began in 2011 catering to Republicans and Independents.
In August, DHS put into place new procedures allowing many non-violent illegal immigrants to remain in the country and apply for work permits. Instead of blanket deportations, agency officials are reviewing individuals on a case-by-case basis, weeding out violent criminals and other threatening cases while closing the books on those considered not to be dangerous.
Obama has also been an outspoken supporter of the DREAM Act, a controversial proposal offering a pathway to permanent residency — and eventually citizenship — for certain illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.
The DREAM Act passed the House in December, but was killed by a GOP filibuster in the Senate.
Becerra on Friday said Republicans left the White House no other option but to act unilaterally on immigration reform.
"President Obama is right," he said. "We can't wait for Republicans in Congress to stop playing this nasty game of politics, blocking immigration reform legislation, which is tearing families and America apart."
Jordy Yager contributed to this report.