Jim Kuhnhenn ?and Erica Werner
WASHINGTON: Conceding defeat on a top domestic priority, President Barack Obama blamed a Republican “year of obstruction” for the demise of sweeping immigration legislation on Monday and said he would take new steps without Congress to fix as much of the system as he can on his own.
“The only thing I can’t do is stand by and do nothing,” the president said. But he gave few hints about what steps he might take by executive action.
Even as he blamed House Republicans for frustrating him on immigration, Obama asked Congress for more money and additional authority to deal with the unexpected crisis of a surge of unaccompanied Central American youths arriving by the thousands at the Southern border. Obama wants flexibility to speed the youths’ deportations and $2 billion in new money to hire more immigration judges and open more detention facilities, requests that got a cool reception from congressional Republicans and angered advocates.
The twin announcements came as the administration confronted the tricky politics of immigration in a midterm election year with Democratic control of the Senate in jeopardy. The fast-developing humanitarian disaster on the border has provoked calls for a border crackdown at the same moment that immigration advocates are demanding Obama loosen deportation rules in the face of congressional inaction.
Obama’s announcement came almost a year to the day after the Senate passed a historic immigration bill that would have spent billions to secure the border and offered a path to citizenship for many of the 11.5 million people now here illegally. Despite the efforts of an extraordinary coalition of businesses, unions, religious leaders, law enforcement officials and others, the GOP-led House never acted.
“Our country and our economy would be stronger today if House Republicans had allowed a simple yes-or-no vote on this bill or, for that matter, any bill,” Obama said in the Rose Garden. “They’d be following the will of the majority of the American people, who support reform.”
Obama said that House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, informed him last week that the House would not be taking up immigration legislation this year.
Boehner blamed Obama for the outcome.
“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. Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue,” he said. Boehner called Obama’s plan to go it alone “sad and disappointing.”
Obama directed Homeland Security Department Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to present him by the end of the summer with steps he can take without congressional approval.
For now the White House said he’d refocus resources from the interior of the country to the border, a move that would effectively further 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 threat, public safety, or border security threat.