As the chances of passing an immigration reform bill in Congress grow slimmer, President Obama faces mounting pressure from Democrats and immigrant right advocates to exercise his executive authority.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said that Congress only has a few weeks until its August recess to act on immigration reform. Many believe that if immigration reform in Congress is to happen this year, it has to happen within that time frame; otherwise, the President will have to take action on his own.
Since the Senate passed its comprehensive immigration reform bill in June 2013, House Republican leaders refused to take it up on the floor. Although Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) indicated last year that immigration reform would be priority legislation for 2014, he now points out that the President’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act gives Republicans more reason not to act on immigration reform. GOP members simply do not trust the President to carry out the law as Congress would pass it.
While House Republican leaders seem to have closed its doors on the prospect of passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill, they also prevented a vote on the proposed legislation referred to as the ENLIST Act that would grant legal status to young undocumented immigrants who serve in the military. Under the bill, the so-called DREAMers would be allowed to join the military and be eligible for citizenship after four years.
Rep. Jeff Dunham (R-California) introduced the bill and sought a vote on the measure by adding it as an amendment to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. However, the effort was blocked by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia).
This recent development intensified the call for executive action on the President. The President’s executive authority allows him to ease deportations. He may, as part of his “prosecutorial discretion”, prioritize deportation of aliens who pose a threat to public safety such as gang members and drug dealers.
At the same time, he could ease up on the deportation of aliens who do not have criminal convictions and who have family members in the U.S. Although they are still subject to deportation, enforcement would not be focused on them.
The President may also grant a certain category of aliens temporary reprieve from deportation allowing them to live in the U.S. and apply for work authorization such as his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Many experts agree that the President has the authority to expand DACA. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has even recommended expanding the deferred action program to parents, children, spouses and siblings of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and DACA beneficiaries. Republicans, on the other hand, believe that this would violate the separation of powers.
Dan Pfeiffer, White House adviser, said that the President would “use every ounce of his authority” where necessary to advance his agenda on immigration. Enforcement policies are currently under review in order to make enforcement “more humane.”
Although only Congress can provide legal status for the undocumented, the President’s authority can grant temporary reprieve from deportation. If House Republicans refuse to take up immigration reform this summer, the President will have no choice but to take action.
“If the President doesn’t take action,” says Representative Mike Honda (D-California), “there would be political blowback from the immigrant community.”