White House looks at executive actions on immigration reform

White House attorneys are examining whether the president can use executive action to “level the playing field” on immigration for business owners, press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.

Earnest provided few details about what kind of action the president might take, but the comments offered the first insight into what type of authorities the administration was reviewing following the president's announcement he would look to act unilaterally after comprehensive immigration reform legislation died in the House.


“The question is whether or not there are additional steps that you can take to level the playing field for businesses,” Earnest told reporters. “There are a lot of businesses right now who are very rigorous about observing immigration law, and that creates an opening for some unscrupulous businesses to undercut them and to bypass that system and essentially hire undocumented labor for cheaper. That, obviously, is not playing on a level playing field.”

Earnest said it was “not fair” to business owners who were “trying to do the right thing.”

Some technology companies have suggested that the president might be able to use executive action to reduce the backlog of H-1B visas, which allow high-skilled foreign workers to come to the U.S.

That would be a major coup for tech firms, which have dumped millions of dollars in lobbying cash behind immigration reform in a bid to loosen restrictions on workers. 

The press secretary said the administration was also examining what it could do “about the population of undocumented immigrants that are already in this country.”

“These are individuals who, in many cases, are largely indistinguishable from so many other Americans,” he said. “And the question is, how do you confront that challenge in a way that reflects our tradition as a country of immigrants, but also a country that enforces the law.”

It’s thought the administration is examining expanding the deferred action program announced in 2012, which allows certain children who entered the country illegally to remain. It's possible the president could expand the program to include qualifying family members of children who qualified for deferred action.

Earnest said that the options were “all very difficult policy problems.”

He also said it was “hard to tell” if the current crisis on the border would affect the reception of the president's administrative actions

“I think that we have — in some ways this is the largest sustained elevation of this storyline in the news media, at least, in quite some time,” Earnest said.

The president has asked administration officials to present him a set of options by the end of the summer, and is expected to act before the election.