President Barack Obama should take executive action on immigration in an effort to ease the current humanitarian crisis along the border, even though some House Republicans have threatened to attempt to impeach him for exceeding his authority. With the midterm elections just three months away, a Republican impeachment effort would energize Democrats to increase their turnout in key races throughout the country.
There are an estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States. But over the past two years there has been an explosion of undocumented children caught crossing the border without parents or guardians. The bulk of the children come from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where crime, gangs and violence are rampant. U.S. authorities have struggled with how to handle the surge. Those coming from Mexico are immediately returned. Those coming from Central America must be referred to the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement by law and placed in temporary shelters to await their deportation proceedings. But the surge has overwhelmed the system. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 57,525 unaccompanied alien children were apprehended along the Southwest Border region in fiscal 2014.
The president recently asked Congress to authorize $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis. Instead the House approved two bills that would provide the administration with $694 million but end a program that protects some young immigrants from deportation for two years. The president said Republican lawmakers are "not even trying to solve the problem." Meanwhile, the Senate did not act, and Congress adjourned for its five week summer break.
At a news conference Wednesday, the president was asked about Republican accusations that he is an "imperial president." Obama responded, saying, "I promise you the American people don't want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Congress to get something done. Even as we take these executive actions, I'm going to continue to reach out to Democrats and Republicans." As to immigration, the president said, "So if I'm going to, for example, send more immigration judges down to the border to process some of these unaccompanied children that have arrived at the border, then that's coming from someplace else, and we're going to have to prioritize. That's well within our authorities and prosecutorial discretion."
Under prosecutorial discretion the government could prioritize what cases it wants to pursue. For instance, the president could authorize prosecutors to focus only on individuals with ties to organized crime or who are convicted of serious criminal offenses. The president could also expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for children who were brought into the country illegally. Under the program, individuals apply for a renewable, two-year work permit and temporary reprieve from deportation proceedings. This would be controversial and give Republicans a chance to charge that illegals are taking jobs away from citizens, even though that would not be true.
In June 2013, the Senate passed an immigration reform bill by a bipartisan vote of 68 to 32. But the House has refused to take the measure up because of Republican opposition in its chamber. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio said last month that the bill would not have stopped the surge of illegal children. "What I think would have prevented that from happening is sufficient border security on the ground that would have discouraged people from making that journey in the first place," he told the Washington Times.
Nonetheless, the president is urging passage of the Senate bill. "My preference would be an actual comprehensive immigration law. And we already have a bipartisan law that would solve a whole bunch of these problems," he said at his news conference. "Until that happens, I'm going to have to make a choice. That's what I was elected to do."
Now, while the do-nothing Congress is on its long summer break, the humanitarian crisis along the border worsens. For sure, some Republicans will go back to their districts and rail at the president for inaction on immigration. At the same time, House Speaker, and hypocrite, John Boehner is suing the president for exceeding his authority by delaying the employer mandate in the healthcare law that Boehner so vehemently opposes. Should the president take executive action on immigration, Boehner may decide to raise the ante.
In the near future, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will present the president with options for changing deportation policies. The president should move quickly on their recommendations and do what he was elected to do.