By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
SEPT. 6, 2014
President Obama will delay taking executive action on immigration until after the midterm elections, bowing to pressure from fellow Democrats who feared that acting now could doom his party’s chances this fall, White House officials said on Saturday.
The decision is a reversal of Mr. Obama’s vow to issue broad directives to overhaul the immigration system soon after summer’s end, and sparked swift anger from immigration advocates. The president made the promise on June 30, standing in the Rose Garden, where he angrily denounced Republican obstruction and said he would use the power of his office to protect immigrant families from the threat of deportation.
- In Remote Detention Center, a Battle on Fast DeportationsSEPT. 5, 2014
- Obama Weighing Delay in Action on ImmigrationAUG. 29, 2014
- Obama Says He’ll Order Action to Aid ImmigrantsJUNE 30, 2014
- Midterm Calculus: The Political Risks of an Obama Executive Action on ImmigrationAUG. 8, 2014
Cristina Jimenez, the managing director for United We Dream, an immigration advocacy group, accused Mr. Obama of “playing politics” with the lives of immigrant families and said “the president’s latest broken promise is another slap to the face of the Latino and immigrant community.”
The announcement underscores the difficulties of Mr. Obama’s bold declaration earlier this year that he would seek to make change on his own. The president’s efforts to go around a gridlocked Congress have already sparked a Republican lawsuit alleging that he has abused the executive powers of his office and is building an “imperial presidency.” Despite concluding that he has broad authority to act, the president has chosen to delay in the face of intense political pressure from his Democratic allies.
Administration officials insist that Mr. Obama is more determined than ever to take action — eventually. But the president and his top aides have concluded that an immigration announcement before November could anger conservatives across the country, possibly cripple Democratic efforts to retain control of the Senate and severely set back any hope for progress on a permanent immigration overhaul.
In particular, advisers to Mr. Obama believe that an announcement before the midterm elections in November would inject the already controversial issue into a highly-charged campaign environment that would force members of both parties to take extreme positions.
That could drive away support for what the president’s advisers believe are common-sense changes to the immigration system, even among Democrats. One adviser noted that if immigration is seen as the reason for Democrats losing the Senate — even if other issues were really to blame — immigration could become toxic for years in both parties, much like gun control did after the issue was blamed for Democratic losses in 1994.
The combustible nature of the immigration debate was demonstrated over the summer, when the issue of the unaccompanied children from Central America crossing the border quickly became a highly-charged partisan issue. Democrats on Capitol Hill warned the White House to deal with that issue before announcing broader immigration changes.
The president and his team believe that waiting until after the election season is over will allow Mr. Obama to unveil sweeping and sustainable changes to the nation’s immigration system that could potentially shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation and provide work permits for many of them.
“The president is confident in his authority to act, and he will before the end of the year,” one official said, speaking anonymously to discuss White House strategy. Mr. Obama is expected to talk about the issue on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to be broadcast on Sunday.
The president made calls to political allies and others to discuss the decision during Friday’s long flight on Air Force One as he returned from Europe, where he had been meeting with the leaders of other NATO countries.
The delay is already prompting anger from Hispanic activists who have been pressing Mr. Obama for months to sidestep Congress. Leaders of several immigration groups said their members will be furious with the president for raising — and then dashing — their hopes. They criticized Mr. Obama for announcing a delay, saying it breaks a solemn pledge to immigrants.
Arturo Carmona, the executive director of Presente.org, called Mr. Obama’s decision “a betrayal” of the Latino community and “shameful.” He said the president “is once again demonstrating that for him, politics come before the lives of Latino and immigrant families.”
And Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said: “Today, we are deeply disheartened that the dreams of hard-working immigrant families who have long contributed to the fabric of the American life remain in jeopardy. The White House’s decision to delay executive action forces countless families to continue to wait in the shadows of fear.”
The timing of an announcement by Mr. Obama had developed into a serious political problem for the president. By saying that he would act on his own, the president heightened expectations among Hispanics that he would finally address the deportation fears of 11 million illegal immigrants, many of whom have been in the United States for decades and have been law-abiding members of their communities.
Since Mr. Obama took office, his administration has dramatically increased the number of deportations, especially along the border with Mexico. Immigration advocates have complained that families are being torn apart when parents or children who are in the country illegally are arrested and sent home. For years, Mr. Obama said the solution to the deportations was an overhaul of immigration laws by Congress. When that effort failed, Mr. Obama said he would act on his own. But the political considerations have now delayed that move.
The anger is certain to intensify in the coming days, as immigration advocates come to grips with the fact that they are not yet getting the relief they expected. But Mr. Obama’s advisers appear to have persuaded the president that he will be able to win back the support of immigrant activists, and create a personal legacy on the issue of immigration, as long as he acts boldly after the midterm elections to announce the executive actions.
History suggests the president’s advisers may be right about the advocates’ short-term memory.
For years, Mr. Obama promised an increasingly impatient gay and lesbian community that he would repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on serving in the armed forces. When he finally pushed through an end to the policy in December of 2010, the gay community hailed the action.
And in his first term, Mr. Obama also earned the scorn of illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as young children and were demanding an end to their deportations. But when he finally created a program to shield them from deportations in 2012, much was forgiven.
The president’s aides said the president is certain to take action after the election, but they have declined to say specifically what actions he is considering or how many people they could affect. The president said Friday that he has begun reviewing options and recommendations from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security.
Among the possibilities that administration officials have explored is the unilateral expansion of a program that would provide many illegal immigrants with work permits to allow them to legally live and work in the country indefinitely.
The president’s pledge in June had committed him to acting in the weeks before the midterm elections, when a half-dozen Democratic senators must face the voters. Sensing a potentially powerful issue, Republicans have repeatedly accused Mr. Obama of preparing to usurp power from Congress and of wildly overstepping the authority of his office.
As the election draws closer, nervous Senate Democrats in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Alaska had told White House officials that Mr. Obama’s actions could cost them victory at the polls. Those conversations culminated in the decision to delay immigration action.
Carl Hulse contributed reporting.