President Barack Obama said that Republicans in the House of Representatives are standing in the way of fixing the flawed immigration system, and that he’s done waiting for them to act.
In a press conference on Monday, Obama said that House Speaker John Boehner told him that the House, where Republicans have a majority, will not vote on immigration reform this year.
And so, the president said, he will act on his own to fix the parts of the immigration system that he can address through executive action.
Obama said he instructed Homeland Security Department Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to present him with executive actions he can take without congressional approval by the end of the summer.
“If Congress cannot do their job, we can do ours,” he said.
One of the first steps Obama said he would take immediately would be to refocus immigration enforcement away from the country’s interior and on to a Mexican border overrun by children crossing illegally from Central America.
“They’re being apprehended,” he said of the children. “The problem is that our system is so broken, so unclear, that folks don’t know what the rules are.”
Obama says there are enough Republicans and Democrats in the House to pass an immigration bill today, and says he would sign it.
The Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive bill in June, 2013 that included tightening border security and creating a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who meet a strict set of criteria. But the effort stalled in the House, where conservative Republicans said they would not approve a bill that gives undocumented immigrants amnesty, which they said would be tantamount to rewarding law breakers.
Obama says he’s waited for more than a year to give Boehner space to act.
“I take executive action only when we have a serious problem, and Congress chooses to do nothing,” Obama said.
Obama says the thousands of unaccompanied children showing up on the border underscore the need to drop the politics and act on immigration.
Republicans have accused Obama of creating the impression overseas – through initiatives that suspend deportation for certain undocumented immigrants – that if children make it to the United States illegally, they will be able to stay.
Obama’s decision effectively declares that a broad-based reform of the immigration system is dead for the year, and perhaps for the remainder of his administration. Changing immigration laws and providing a path to citizenship for about 11 million immigrants in the country illegally has been one Obama’s top priorities as he sought to conclude his presidency with a major second-term victory.
Obama’s plan to concentrate immigration resources on the border areas will effectively reduce the number of deportations in the country’s interior by stressing enforcement action on individuals who are either recent unlawful border crossers or who present a national security, public safety, or border security threat.
Boehner immediately released a statement assailing Obama.
“The crisis at our southern border reminds us all of the critical importance of fixing our broken immigration system,” Boehner said. “It is sad and disappointing that – faced with this challenge – President Obama won't work with us, but is instead intent on going it alone with executive orders that can't and won't fix these problems.”
Alfonso Aguilar, executive director for the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said that there was plenty of blame to go around for the failure to reform immigration policies.
"I agree with President Obama that House Republicans have failed to lead on immigration, an issue that requires immediate attention," said Aguilar, but added: "Unilateral administrative action at this time would only serve to antagonize Republicans. I therefore encourage the President to postpone any executive action for the time being and try to begin working with Republicans to get immigration reform done in 2015.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.