Republicans in the Senate are not taking too kindly to President Barack Obama and his administration considering taking executive action to curb deportations of illegal immigrants, and have sent him a letter on Thursday, April 24, 2014 objecting to any chances calling it a "disregard of the constitution." The Associated Press reported that the letter headed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the "Top Republican," Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Charles Grassley, R-IA, additionally 20 other GOP senators signed the letter. Republicans in both houses are opposed to the president taking any action regarding immigration reform, and believe that it is Congress' responsibility.
Grassley announced the letter on his Senate website in a press release entitled; "Senators Press Administration on Enforcing the Immigration Laws." According to the press release besides McConnell and Grassley the other 20 Senators that signed the letter included; "Richard Shelby, Mike Lee, Johnny Isakson, Mike Johanns, James Inhofe, John Boozman, David Vitter, James Risch, Pat Roberts, Mike Crapo, Roy Blunt, Thad Cochran, Saxby Chambliss, Tim Scott, Tom Coburn, Deb Fischer, Ted Cruz, John Hoeven, Jeff Sessions and Orrin Hatch."
In the letter the senators write about their "grave concerns over the immigration 'enforcement review'" the president "ordered after meeting with immigration advocacy groups on March 13, 2014, and that is now being carried out by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)." At that March 13 White House meeting Obama announced that he would order DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to conduct a "system-wide review" according to the White House readout of the meeting; "to do an inventory of the Department's current practices to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law." The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has been working with the administration, including providing recommendations for altering the policies.
The Senators oppose the proposed plans to make more lax the enforcement of the immigrations laws, stating; "According to reports, the changes under consideration would represent a near complete abandonment of basic immigration enforcement and discard the rule of law and the notion that the United States has enforceable borders." The new rules would "limit" the number of deportations of illegal immigrants with non-violent criminal records including illegal border crossings.
For the most part Obama wants to stop deporting illegal immigrants that would fit the criteria for the path to citizenship that is included in the Senate passed immigration bill based on the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' recommendations. It would be applied to 8 million of the 11 million illegal immigrants presently in the country. An Associated Press report from Monday, April 21, 2014 confirmed that DHS Secretary Johnson is in fact considering allowing this change. DHS spokesman Clark Stevens however, stated on Monday that "Any report of specific considerations at this time would be premature… [Johnson] has undergone a very rigorous and inclusive process to best inform the review." It was this Associated Press report that prompted the 22 GOP Senator to write to President Obama.
Continuing, the Senators cited U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) statistics that state the administration is actually quite lenient with regard to deportations, particularly convicted criminals and recent border crossers. The Senators claim that "in 2013, nearly all individuals removed from the United States were convicted criminals and recent border crossers…. recently revealed documents from ICE show that, in 2013, the agency released 68,000 potentially deportable aliens deemed by ICE to pose a criminal threat." The Senators also cited at a feature report by the Los Angeles Times entitled "High deportation figures are misleading" that stated according to the Senator's letter that "there has been a 40% decline, since 2009, in removals of individuals living and working in the interior of the country."
The statistics the GOP Senator's used countered recent reports that suggest that the Obama administration has deported more illegal immigrants and has been much harsher in enforcing immigration laws than previous administrations, earning him the name "deporter in chief." According to a recent article by the New York Times entitled "More Deportations Follow Minor Crimes, Records Show" published on April 6 under the Obama administration there have been more deportations than under Obama's predecessor's George W. Bush, and more harsher legal repercussions for illegal immigrants who committed "non-violent" offenses. Since 2009 2 million illegal immigrants were deported. According to a quote of President Obama's published by Time magazine Obama had promised that deportations would only be for "criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they're trying to figure out how to feed their families."
The majority "two-thirds" according to the New York Times did not have criminal records and at the most had minor traffic violations, whereas, the New York Times indicated that 394,000 or only 20 percent actually had criminal records. The Obama administration has been very tough on traffic violators including those charged with driving under the influence and tough on illegal immigrants who have been caught "entering or re-entering" the U.S. "illegally." Additionally, Obama has charged 90 percent of "non-violent" offenders, which makes sure according to Time magazine that these illegal immigrants cannot "return to the U.S. for five years under threat of prison time."
The GOP Senators emphasized the two areas where the law is most lax, dealing with illegal immigrants that are criminals, and illegal border crossings. The Senators wrote that the enforcement is so slack that "individuals here illegally who do not meet administration "priorities" are not only largely exempt from the law, but are released even if they come into contact with federal law enforcement authorities." The Senators are concerned that convicted criminals are given free passes, and are not deported "until after the most serious crimes have occurred and the offenders have been tried and imprisoned, the administration is allowing preventable crimes harming innocent people to take place every day."
They claim the ICE agents are told to ignore illegal immigrants with expired visas and illegally crossed the border. The Senators used the President of the National ICE Council Chris Crane's Congressional testimony to back-up their argument. Crane stated "ICE agents are now prohibited from arresting individuals solely on charges of illegal entry or visa overstay-the two most frequently violated sections of U.S. immigration law." Additionally if agents arrest illegal immigrants under those circumstances the agents are the ones that usually face the disciplinary action.
The GOP Senators called out President Obama for taking into his own hands to change federal laws, which they deem a "presidential overreach" as the Associated Press called it. The Senators chastised Obama for altering ignoring the law, explaining; "These policies have operated as an effective repeal of duly enacted federal immigration law and exceed the bounds of the executive branch's prosecutorial discretion." They explained that "It is not the province of the Executive to nullify the laws that the people of the United States, through their elected representatives, have chosen to enact. To the contrary, it is the duty of the Executive to take care that these laws are faithfully executed."
They reminded the president that it is Congress' responsibility and role to pass laws, not the president, and they did not pass laws to lenient deportation rules. The Senator's clarified that "Congress has not passed laws permitting people to illegally enter the country or to ignore their visa expiration dates, so long as they don't have a felony conviction or other severe offense on their record." They determined and accused President Obama "disregarding" the Constitution, stating; "Your actions demonstrate an astonishing disregard for the Constitution, the rule of law, and the rights of American citizens and legal residents."
To conclude their letter they told Obama that he is putting the country in peril by ignoring the laws, and warned and reminded him to uphold his oath of office, writing; "Our entire constitutional system is threatened when the Executive Branch suspends the law at its whim and our nation's sovereignty is imperiled when the commander-in-chief refuses to defend the integrity of its borders. You swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. We therefore ask you to uphold that oath and to carry out the duties required by the Constitution and entrusted to you by the American people."
Grassley personally commented that Obama's "disregard" for the laws and Constitution, does not stop at immigration, and list the all the areas where he does not enforce the laws, saying; "The Obama Administration has a trust deficit. Between immigration, marijuana, and Obamacare, the selective enforcement of laws is a real hurdle that Congress has a hard time getting over to pass immigration reform without assurances that the border will be secured. Everybody's time would be better served by working on legal immigration provisions such as ag and high-tech workers where there is broad consensus."
Speaker of the House of the Representatives John Boehner, R-OH has also cited a lack of trust as the main reason why the House will most probably not act on immigration this year. Boehner, R-OH spoke about immigration reform on Fox News's "Kelly File" on Monday, April 14, explaining the trust issue is behind the House's reluctance to pass any immigration legislation; "The American people want us to deal with immigration reform. I've tried to get the House to move on this now for the last 15 or 16 months. But every time the president ignores the law, like the 38 times he has on Obamacare, our members look up and go, 'Wait a minute: You can't have immigration reform without strong border security and internal enforcement, how can we trust the president to actually obey the law and enforce the law that we would write?'"
On his Fox News appearance, Boehner also warned the president that any executive action will absolutely ensure that the House will not act at all on immigration reform this year. House Speaker Boehner cautioned; "That will make it almost impossible to ever do immigration reform, because he will spoil the well to the point where no one will trust him by giving him a new law that he will implement the way the Congress intended."
The letter was a response to Wednesday, April 9, 2014 reports that DHS Secretary Johnson is re-evaluating the administration's deportation policy looking for a way to curb the number, which now stands at 2 million since Obama took office in 2009. Johnson expressed when announcing that he reviewing the deportation policies that in any decisions national security will remain a priority, the GOP Senators in their letter accuse the president and his administration of ignoring the security of its citizens, and the rule of law. Johnson pledged after a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the time; "I am dedicated and committed to ensuring that our removal priorities are focused on threats to national security, public safety and border security. I have heard a number of cases that lead me to want to reevaluate our priorities to make sure we're getting this right, and that's what I'm doing right now."
Obama speaking at a press conference on Thursday, April 17 promised his administration will review one more time to see if anything can be done to alter the administration's deportation policy. Obama explained the process; "As far as our actions, Jeh Johnson, our new head of the Department of Homeland Security, has been talking to everybody -- law enforcement, immigrant rights groups -- to do a thorough-going review of our approach towards enforcement. And we're doing that in consultation with Democrats and Republicans and with any interested party…. We're going to review it one more time to see if there's more that we can do to make it more consistent with common sense and more consistent with I think the attitudes of the American people, which is we shouldn't be in the business necessarily of tearing families apart who otherwise are law-abiding."
President Obama made it clear in a White House meeting with six faith leaders on Tuesday, April 15, 2014 that he will not take any unilateral action or sign any executive action that would push through immigration reform without Congress. According to the White House Obama "emphasized that while his Administration can take steps to better enforce and administer immigration laws, nothing can replace the certainty of legislative reform and this permanent solution can only be achieved by Congress."
Although President Obama has blaming the Congressional Republicans for not passing immigration reform, he is the one that immigrants and minority groups are blaming for the problems with the immigration system and the continued deportations. Hispanics and Asians, who make up the bulk of illegal and undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are stepping up their pressure on the president this election year according to the Associated Press. These groups want Obama to take unilateral actions to stop the deportations and expand the program that granted working permits to illegal immigrants who came to the country as children or the family members and relatives of military members to now include immigrants in the country five years or more have children born in the U.S. who are citizens. The groups are promising that if Obama does not take action, they would not vote for the Democrats in the midterm elections.
There is still a wide chasm between the president and the House on immigration reform. More or less President Obama wants a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country. The GOP outlined a "set of principles" on immigration reform during their Republican Congressional retreat at the end of January 2014. The Republicans prefer passing piecemeal legislation rather than one sweeping bill, and do not want to give citizenship to the illegal immigrants instead they are willing to give them some legal status that would be acquired through a rigorous process, but citizenship is out of the question. House Republicans also find border security to be the top provision of an immigration reform bill. Earlier this year Obama expressed also he would be more open to listening to the Republican Congress' proposal and stipulations for an immigration bill, but he now seems to returning to a firm stance as the elections approach.
Immigration reform has stalled since the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill on June 27, 2013, which written by a bipartisan the Gang of Eight senators by a vote of 68 to 32. The bill included a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants presently in the country that would take 14 years, and tougher border security provisions, which helped garner 14 Republicans votes. Since then the Republican House of Representatives has stalled on immigration legislation.
Obama and Democrats have chosen economic opportunity and immigration reform as their key issues in the midterm election campaign. The Democrats are on the edge where they might lose six seats and their control on the Senate. They already realize regaining control of the House of Representatives is virtually impossible at this point. Obama however, is facing more criticism from minority groups over immigration reform than the Republicans he is attacking, because they blame the president from the increased numbers of deportations and for not taking any executive actions to curb this trend and help illegal immigrants in the country. These groups are promising that the Democrats will lose midterm elections votes unless the president takes action. Presidents often see their parties lose seats in the second midterm elections of their terms, and Obama and Democrats are trying to curb that precedent.
- Senators Press Administration on Enforcing the Immigration Laws, Letter and Press Release, April 24, 2014 -- Letter PDF
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.