Moving Forward on Immigration
On Monday, President Obama announced a significant change to immigration policy, stating in a Rose Garden address that he would begin “a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.” The announcement came after a report that House Speaker John Boehner informed the President that he would not bring up an immigration reform bill for a vote in the House this year.
President Obama had been deferring the use of executive action, despite pressure from immigration advocates, giving Congress space to move legislation on the issue. But a year after the Senate passed its bill, and with the Speaker making it clear that the House would not consider it, the President was left with little choice. He also made clear that the scope of the executive actions would be far more limited in scope than the Senate-passed immigration bill, or any Congressional action. And he urged advocates to continue to pressure Congress to act on a comprehensive reform bill.
The Obama Administration plans to make two key moves. First, the President is asking the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to present him with recommendations on action he can take by the end of the summer. What those actions will entail remains unclear but could range from ending programs like the Secure Communities program, to expanding eligibility for Deferred Action or changes to deportation policy.
Second, the President ordered a shift of enforcement resources from the country’s interior to the Southern border. On one hand, this represents a welcome change in policy; the overuse of immigration enforcement mechanisms far from the border has disrupted the lives of countless established communities and families.
At the same time, many advocates expressed some concern. The shift was announced on the same day the President asked Congressional leaders for emergency funding to address the crisis numbers of unaccompanied migrant children who have arrived in recent months, with an accompanying pledge to expedite the return of those children to their countries of origin. While the emergency funding is welcome, many advocates are concerned about too quickly removing these children, and the renewed focus on border security may undermine humanitarian concern for their welfare.
The week’s news about immigration reform is disheartening, but there are reasons to remain optimistic as we bear in mind our commitment to welcoming the stranger. Congress will definitively not move a bill this year, and any action by the Administration will be more limited in scope than whatever could have been accomplished by legislation. The child migrant crisis, fueled primarily by violence and crime in Central America, is cause for real concern—and we should be sure to give these children the resources they need to be safe. Last, we should be cautiously optimistic about the limited but tangible prospects for relief announced by the President. As the Administration works out the specifics of its plan to ease the burden on families and communities, immigration advocates will be watching closely.