Politics May Prevent Obama From Going His Own Way on Illegals

Monday, 14 Jul 2014 06:58 PM

By Cathy Burke

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President Barack Obama's vow to go-it-alone on immigration reform can be far-reaching: His 2012 executive action to defer some deportations has already given "temporary reprieve" to 550,000 illegal immigrants, Bloomberg reports.

But politics may ultimately rein him in.

"As a legal matter, his discretion is really broad," UCLA law professor Hiroshi Motomura told Bloomberg Monday. "As a political matter, I think it’s much more constrained."

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When Congress repeatedly declined to pass the DREAM Act, which would have offered citizenship to children whose parents brought them to the United States illegally, the president used his executive authority to offer "deferred action" on their deportation proceedings.

More than 550,000 people have qualified, Bloomberg noted, illustrating there's "quite a bit" the president can do on the contentious issue without congressional approval.

For example, Bloomberg reported the president has the authority to grant many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States relief simply by instructing the Department of Homeland Security not to pursue their deportation cases.

And that's exactly what some groups are urging him to do.

Bloomberg reports the president is being urged by the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group, the AFL-CIO, and other immigrant advocates, to extend the "deferred action" offered two years ago to those who would have qualified for the "pathway to citizenship" created in the Senate's immigration reform bill passed last year.

The Senate proposal would have covered people who have been in the United States since 2011 and don’t have serious criminal records, which would represent about two-thirds of all undocumented immigrants, Bloomberg adds.

"These are people that we know are going to eventually be legalized by Congress," Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy for the liberal Center for American Progress, told the news service.

But the president can't declare an amnesty.

"The president cannot give people green cards — you know, lawful permanent resident status,” Motomura said. "This is all temporary reprieve."

The president can also make changes to the way immigration laws are enforced, including federal immigration enforcement programs like Secure Communities, which lets local police share the fingerprints of people they arrest with federal immigration authorities, Bloomberg reports.

But such initiatives have come under fire for violating privacy laws, and because the rules are created by Homeland Security —  and not Congress —  "there would be no question that the president could suspend or terminate that program," Yale Law School professor Michael Wishnie told the news service.

Other steps may not be so easy because Congress holds the purse strings.

For example, the president wants to redeploy federal immigration enforcement agents to the Mexican border, but Congress has to pay for it. And Obama's request for $3.7 billion in emergency appropriations for additional surveillance, detention, and services for migrants, and to hire more immigration court judges to expedite deportations, is coming under fierce congressional scrutiny.

"There’s always appropriations tools where you can direct and deny funding," Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole told Bloomberg. "There’s abundant weapons there."

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