Although he promised a year of action without Congress, President Barack Obama made it clear on Tuesday, April 15, 2014 in a White House meeting in the Oval Office with faith leaders that he will not take executive action in immigration reform. President Obama then issued a statement on Wednesday, April 16 urging the Republican Congress to pass immigration reform. In his statement Obama returned to his old position holding firm that the Republicans in the House of Representatives should pass the Senate immigration bill passed nearly a year ago in June 2013.
President Obama followed up his meeting with the faith leaders by issuing the next day, Wednesday, April 16 a statement supporting the comprehensive immigration reform bill the Senate passed on June 27, 2013. In the statement Obama summarized the contents of the bill the Senate passed, he also stated that it "would grow the economy by $1.4 trillion and shrink the deficit by nearly $850 billion over the next two decades." Obama tried to sell the Senate's bill as good for the economy, explaining; "Simply put, it would boost our economy, strengthen our security, and live up to our most closely-held values as a society."
As usual the president placed the entire blame for any immigration bill not passing on the Republican controlled House of Representatives. Although Obama always attacks the GOP he has stepped up his rhetoric in this midterm election year, especially with control of the now Democratic Senate precariously in the balance. Obama stated; "Unfortunately, Republicans in the House of Representatives have repeatedly failed to take action, seemingly preferring the status quo of a broken immigration system over meaningful reform." Continuing the president expressed; "Instead of advancing commonsense reform and working to fix our immigration system, House Republicans have voted in favor of extreme measures like a punitive amendment to strip protections from 'Dreamers.'"
President Obama concluded his statement saying; "We have a chance to strengthen our country while upholding our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, and I urge House Republicans to listen to the will of the American people and bring immigration reform to the House floor for a vote."
The president met with six faith leaders on Tuesday, April 15, mostly representing the country's different Christian denominations, Muslim leaders were not present as well as Jewish leaders, because Passover was being observed. President Obama did not deliver any public remarks; the meeting was closed to the press. The meeting was a private conversation and the White House only released a statement that was a readout of the meeting entitled "Readout of the President's Meeting with Faith Leaders on Commonsense Immigration Reform."
The White House readout confirmed that President Obama 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."
The White House readout of the meeting summarized the contents of the meeting's discussions. According to the readout "The faith leaders shared with the President stories about the impact the failure to fix the immigration system has on families in their congregations and communities." President Obama also discussed the problems with the immigration system, the White House recounted "The President expressed deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system."
According to a recent article by the New York Times however, 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."
At the meeting, President Obama and the faith leaders concluded the best solution would be for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. According to the White House readout; "The President and the religious leaders expressed their longstanding commitment to immigration reform as a moral imperative and pledged to continue to urge Congress to act on reform as soon as possible." The bill the Senate passed in 2013 is the bill they placed their support behind; "The President thanked the faith leaders for their leadership on this issue and their tireless efforts to encourage Congress to finish the job."
According to the White House in addition to the six faith leaders "Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President" and "Melissa Rogers, Executive Director, White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships" also attended the meeting. The White House listed the following faith leaders as being present at the Oval Office meeting; "Dr. Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association, Chicago, IL; Luis Cortes, President, Esperanza, Philadelphia, PA; JoAnne Lyon, General Superintendent, The Wesleyan Church, Indianapolis, IN; Dr. Russell Moore, Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville, TN; Suzii Paynter, Executive Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Atlanta, GA, and Dieter Uchtdorf, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, North Salt Lake City, UT."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney discussed at his daily press briefing on Tuesday, April 15 President Obama's position on Congress passing immigration, stating; "I think the president believes that there is an opportunity that still exists for House Republicans to follow the lead of the Senate, including Republicans in the Senate, and take up and pass comprehensive immigration reform."
Carney also summarized the president's meeting with the faith leaders, recounting; "And today's meeting that the president had with faith leaders demonstrates and reinforces the fact that there is a broad, unusually broad, coalition that supports that effort, that supports comprehensive immigration reform and all the benefits that making reform the law would provide to the country, to our security, to our economy, to our businesses."
Support for immigration reform has broad bipartisan support, however, the details is where there are disagreements and differences. Like his press secretary, Obama also mentioned this support in his statement on Wednesday, April 16, indicating that "The majority of Americans are ahead of House Republicans on this crucial issue and there is broad support for reform, including among Democrats and Republicans, labor and business, and faith and law enforcement leaders."
The press secretary concluded about Obama being against unilateral action, saying at the press briefing; "The President is focused only on doing the right thing for our country, doing the right thing on this very difficult issue, and allowing everybody, but most importantly, the country and the economy to benefit from taking action."
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH spoke about immigration reform on Fox News's "Kelly File" earlier this week on Monday, April 14, where he explained why the House has delayed passing 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?'"
In February the Speaker stated that Congressional Republicans do not trust the President enough to enforce border security an important issues to Republicans and therefore it is not probable that immigration reform would pass in 2014. Now Boehner made it clear when speaking on Fox News that if President takes any unilateral actions all he will do would cause more mistrust with Congress and would completely prevent them from passing any 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."
Although President Obama is blaming the Republicans, 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 who were in the military to now includes 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. In November 2013, Speaker Boehner declared that; "Is immigration reform dead? Absolutely not. I believe that Congress needs to deal with this issue….There are a lot of private conversations that are underway to try to figure out, how do we best move on a common-sense, step-by-step basis to address this very important issue...because it is a very important issue."
Democrats in the House are taking matters into their own hands to force a vote on the Senate's immigration bill; according to Roll Call they have filed a discharged petition. The petition requires a majority of the House to sign to ensure a vote. Roll Call reports that so far 191 Democrats have signed the petition and three Republicans; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, Jeff Denham, R-CA and David Valadao, R-CA, nine Democrats have still not signed the petition. The Democrats are now targeting 30 Republicans that have "previously" stated they "support" immigration reform, hoping to get them to sign the petition or pressure them in the midterm elections should they not sign it. The Democrats are asking these Republicans to "put their pen where their mouth is," however it highly unlikely they will gain supporters among the Republicans to force Speaker Boehner into putting the bill to a vote in the House.
- President Barack Obama's Statement on Immigration Reform, April 16, 2014
- Readout of the President’s Meeting with Faith Leaders on Commonsense Immigration Reform, April 15, 2014
- Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/15/2014, April 15, 2014
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.