Record numbers of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and a clear signal that immigration reform is dead in the House has prompted President Obama to launch a new administrative effort to "fix as much of our immigration system as I can" on his own.
During a Monday statement from the White House, Obama announced that he has directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to move immigration resources from the interior of the U.S. to the border. He's also asked them to "identify additional actions" the administration can take unilaterally. Those recommendations are expected by the end of the summer, and Obama will then implement them "without further delay."
Earlier this year, the White House signaled that it will announced administrative action it can take related to deportations to make the process "more humane." But it delayed the results of such a review until the end of August in the name of giving the Republican-led House the political space needed to moving reform in July. "I held off on pressuring them for a long time to give Speaker Boehner the space he needed to get his fellow Republicans on board," Obama said.
"I take executive action only when we have a serious problem, a serious issue, and Congress chooses to do nothing," Obama said.
House Speaker John Boehner informed Obama last week that the House will not vote on immigration reform this year, Obama said. The two spoke in-person before a PGA event.
"In our conversation last week, I told the president what I have been telling him for months: the American people and their elected officials don't trust him to enforce the law as written," Boehner said in a statement. "Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue."
The House will spend July moving to sue Obama over his use of administrative action, with House Speaker John Boehner saying the president isn't faithfully executing the laws of the land.
And now, the crisis of unaccompanied minors coupled with unexpected events (such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor losing his primary to an immigration hawk), has made the already dim chances to move reform this year even more unlikely.
The move to take administrative action related to immigration policy is a semi-win for Immigration advocates, who have been criticizing the administration from the left for deporting what they deem a record number of people from the U.S. They had expected some action was to come this summer, but the delay in review left many frustrated.
While Obama signaled that he would take some actions to ease such deportations, the crisis at the border has pushed the White House to beef up security on the border and increase immigration judges to speed up removals.
In a letter sent Monday to Congressional leadership, Obama wrote that the administration may seek to work with Congress to provide DHS with more authority to process and return unaccompanied minors from non-Mexican, Central American countries. He also asked Congress to approve emergency funding to speed up removals, enhance border security, increase the number of immigration judges, and to work with Central American nations to "address the root causes of migration."
Much of the drastic rise in children at the border is due to migration from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Unlike such immigrants coming from Mexico, these Central American children can't be immediately returned to their countries-of-origin. Instead, they are supposed to be turned over to Health and Human Services, and are put into deportation proceedings—which can take months.
Republicans have laid the blame on the administration for creating the crisis at the border, saying that previous administration actions such as DACA has encouraged young children to make the dangerous trek to the U.S.
"The president's own executive orders have led directly to the humanitarian crisis along the southern border, giving false hope to children and their families that if they enter the country illegally they will be allowed to stay," Boehner said after Obama's statement. "The White House claims it will move to return these children to their families in their home countries, yet additional executive action from this president isn't going to stem the tide of illegal crossings, it's only going to make them worse."
While many of the children cite violence in their countries as the main reason they are fleeing, the administration has acknowledged rumors of U.S. policy is playing a role in fueling the crisis.