There was an expectation of July fireworks on the immigration issue in the form of presidential action to ease deportations of immigrants. But the president decided to give the GOP another couple of months to pass immigration reform, a move that further split immigration advocates.
In a statement late Tuesday, the White House said President Barack Obama had asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to put off releasing results of a review of immigration policies that Johnson had undertaken at the president’s direction.
Johnson had been examining the agency’s enforcement policies since March, trying to determine whether they could be tweaked to relieve more immigrants who are here illegally from deportation, as was done for young immigrants. Johnson had met with various advocates, groups and critics on the issue.
“The president’s priority is to enact a permanent solution for people currently living in the shadows and that can only come with immigration reform,” an unnamed White House official said in a statement. “He believes that there is still an opportunity for legislation to be considered in the House this summer.”
Although no date had been set for a release of his review, immigration reform activists have been reminding Obama that families are being separated daily by deportations. Demands for a suspension on deportations have been escalating since February, when House Speaker John Boehner said his caucus did not want to move forward on immigration reform. The president had said he could only take limited action.
Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a champion of immigration reform, had been warning GOP of coming action from Obama if they didn’t act by the July 4 recess.
But election-year politics weighed into the issue, as some House members faced competitive primaries against tea party candidates and immigration reform opponents. Some Republicans who support reform feared losing their re-election if forced to vote on immigration bills. Several tea party candidates have been unsuccessful, although the party scored some wins in Texas’ primary Tuesday night.
Congress has a month-long summer break in August and with general elections in November, action in September is unlikely.
A few hours before the White House announcement, several advocacy groups issued a joint statement asking Obama to hold off on executive action and urging Boehner to take action. “We believe the president should move cautiously and give the House leadership all of the space they may need to bring legislation to the floor for a vote,” said the joint statement. The groups that issued it were: National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, National Immigration Forum, Service Employees International Union, Sojourners, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration.
But young immigrants who have been pushing for presidential action through demonstrations and protests said they were appalled by the groups’ support of the delay. “We ask the president and the immigrant rights movement to follow the lead of those directly affected, and not the Democratic electoral agenda,” Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas, cofounders of the DREAM Action Coalition, said in the statement.
The White House said Johnson will “seek a fresh start on the Secure Communities program,” used by local officials to turn over fingerprints of all people it arrests to DHS to check citizenship and immigration status.
“It will take time to get all of this right and the secretary will take the time he needs to do it well,” the White House official said.