Wall Street Journal
By Laura Meckler
September 6, 2014
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama said Saturday he plans to put off executive action on immigration until after the midterm elections, citing the surge of undocumented children who flooded the U.S. border with Mexico this summer as a major reason for the delay.
The decision is a nod to Democrats in tough Senate races who had complained the executive action could hurt their campaigns. Many of them have been attacked for policies their Republican opponents say led to this summer's border crisis.
The delay breaks Mr. Obama's promise, broadcast from the Rose Garden in June, that he would act on his own by summer's end to fix as many problems of the immigration system as the law allows.
"The truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem," Mr. Obama said in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," referring to the wave of children apprehended on the border this summer. The interview was taped Saturday.
"I want to spend some time, even as we're getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action… (and) make sure that the public understands why we're doing this, why it's the right thing for the American people, why it's the right thing for the American economy," Mr. Obama said.
Now, White House officials say the president will act by the end of the year.
The executive action had been widely expected to ratchet back deportations and possibly offer work permits to people in the U.S. illegally, perhaps millions. It might include administrative changes pushed by companies that would produce more legal visas for people seeking to work in the U.S.
The decision came after a debate inside the White House over the political ramifications of acting now versus waiting. Many have argued that an executive action on immigration could excite Democratic voters and increase turnout this fall, while cementing the Democrats' long-term standing with the fast-growing bloc of Hispanic voters. But in recent weeks, vulnerable Senate Democrats running in conservative states have been pummeled by their GOP opponents on immigration, and called publicly and privately for the president to hold off.
In his interview with NBC, Mr. Obama downplayed Republican criticism that the decision to postpone these executive orders is purely a political decision aimed at relieving stress on embattled congressional Democrats.
"What I'm saying is that I'm going to act because it's the right thing for the country," he said. "But it's going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration, what we've done on unaccompanied children, and why it's necessary."
The move came as a deep disappointment to advocates who had spent a year hoping that House Republicans would take up the issue and then months waiting for Mr. Obama to act.
"We are outraged by what is a clear political move, which leaves millions of mothers and fathers under the perpetual threat of deportation," said Lorella Praeli of the group United We Dream, which has applied sustained pressure on the White House to act.
Democrats in tight races in Arkansas, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Alaska all have said in recent weeks Mr. Obama shouldn't act without congressional approval to change immigration law, saying the move would be an inappropriate end-run around lawmakers.
Control of the Senate for Mr. Obama's final two years in office hinges on a handful of races in these conservative states where Democrats are seeking re-election.
Republicans have charged that Mr. Obama already has exceeded his authority in making previous changes to immigration policy. This summer, House Republicans passed legislation that would have unraveled Mr. Obama's 2012 action to protect from deportation young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
On Saturday, Republicans denounced the decision as politically motivated and misleading to voters.
Scott Brown, a Republican who is running for the Senate in New Hampshire, has used immigration to challenge his opponent, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
"Make no mistake: President Obama plans to grant amnesty, it's just that he will cynically wait until after the election so as not to harm Senate Democrats like Jeanne Shaheen," Mr. Brown said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who faces a tough challenger this fall, also denounced the move.
"What's so cynical about today's immigration announcement is that the president isn't saying he'll follow the law—he's just saying he'll go around the law once it's too late for Americans to hold his party accountable in the November elections," he said.
Mr. Obama has repeatedly said that he prefers Congress take action on immigration, where there is some Republican support for the changes he seeks. But he says that any action he takes will be within the law, and that many changes to the system can only be approved by Congress.
The Senate passed a bipartisan overhaul of immigration law that included a path to legal status and citizenship for many illegal immigrants. But immigration legislation died in the House.
In June, after being told by House Speaker John Boehner that the House wouldn't act, Mr. Obama said he had directed top officials to develop options for administrative action.
The White House said Mr. Obama made his final decision to delay on the plane home from Wales, where he was attending a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit, Friday night, and phoned some allies from the plane.
The decision had been anticipated by immigration advocates, who were already angry at the Obama administration for deporting record numbers of people. Over the past week, Mr. Obama and his aides had signaled they were reconsidering their timetable for action.
"We are bitterly disappointed in the president and we are bitterly disappointed in the Senate Democrats," said Frank Sharry of the group America's Voice.
But leading up to the decision, many advocates also said that all will likely be forgiven if the president makes good on his new promise to act by year's end.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said the delay will raise expectations for more significant action later in the year. "In a strange way, the bar is only getting higher," he said.
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