President Obama will not wait any longer to address the current immigration system. During the post-election press conference held last week at the White House, President Obama affirmed that he will act on immigration reform through executive authority. President Obama expressed that he held off on taking any executive action to give Congress the time and space needed to get immigration reform passed. In particular, the President noted that the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill provided Congress with an opportunity to enact a comprehensive reform package, but the House failed to reach a compromise. With the year coming to an end, it is unlikely that a lame duck Congress will find common ground on the controversial topics surrounding the immigration debate and choose to enact reform in the next six weeks. Thus, the Senate’s comprehensive bill will be swept away in preparation for the new Congress.
It is within this context – the absence of action by Congress – that President Obama will use his executive authority to make improvements on the existing immigration system. Notably, President Obama has confirmed that he plans to issue executive orders before the end of the year if Congress fails to act. Although specific details are unknown, it is expected that the President will enact certain reforms that will enhance border security and simultaneously expand deferred action for individuals with significant ties to the United States. It is also expected that the president will expand non-immigrant visas by alleviating restrictions, expanding or eliminating quotas, or simply halting the inclusion of derivative family members towards the annual quota.
Republicans have responded to President Obama’s plan of action, warning that executive action will jeopardize any chances of immigration reform. Notably, House Speaker John Boehner said the president would “poison the well” if he takes action on immigration policy, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said executive action on immigration would be like “waving a red flag in front of a bull.” President Obama stated, however, that his proposed executive actions will not prevent Congress from passing a law that supersedes those actions. If Congress is, in fact, eager to tackle a broken immigration system, it will have the opportunity to do so. President Obama asserted that he is prepared to work with Republicans to pass a comprehensive bill. In the meantime, however, the President is determined to use his executive authority to lawfully make improvements on the existing immigration system.
The extent of executive action is yet to be determined, particularly in the aftermath of the midterm elections, where Republicans won the Senate and full control of Congress. Yesterday, the White House reported that the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security are reviewing the law to determine the extent of the president’s authority to act in this area. According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, “the president is going to use every element of his authority to take every step that he can, to try to solve the problems of our broken immigration system.” Stay tuned for further developments.