Pressure intensifies on Obama over deportations

Here’s another sign that the window for Republicans to act legislatively on immigration may be closing very fast, whether Republicans are aware of it or (as appears to be the case) not.

In a new memo to the Obama administration, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has laid out a list of specific demands it wants the president to follow in order to unilaterally ease the pace of deportations — suggesting the pressure on Obama to act may soon become overwhelming.

The memo — which hasn’t yet been released and will be presented to Department of Homeland Security officials on April 9th — calls on Obama to do whatever possible to ease deportations of all those who would be impacted by the Senate-passed immigration bill, and as such, represents a significant escalation of pressure on Obama from Dem lawmakers.

The memo’s basic aims are not new. They were previously developed by the CHC, which then led the President to call a private meeting with Hispanic lawmakers and urge them to hold off on pressuring him publicly, while the Department of Homeland Security reviews options for making deportation policy more humane.”

But Latino lawmakers are tired of waiting, and the release of the new memo will intensify pressure for action. Notably, the memo does not lead with the suggestion that lawmakers would prefer legislative action, instead getting right to the point:

We write to recommend administrative actions that DHS should take to end the needless separation of American families caused by the deportation of immigrants with strong family ties and deep roots in the United States. The administration should use all legal means available including deferred action (like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals `DACA’ program) and parole to suspend, delay or dispense with the deportations of immigrants who would qualify for legal status and protection under S. 744.

The memo insists Obama has the power to expand the same prosecutorial discretion it used to suspend deportations under DACA to parents and siblings of DACA recipients. It argues that they, too, are “low priority” deportations, and points to thousands of children who are in foster care because parents have been deported. It also argues that the administration can expand “parole in place” to temporarily protect immediate relatives of U.S. citizens — such as spouses, children, and parents — from deportation, claiming family unity is a “significant public benefit.”

These steps do not constitute unilaterally legalizing anyone, but judging by the Obama administration’s public statements, officials may not believe he has the legal right to take them. Some experts have said he has more legal leeway than the administration has admitted, though the legal debate remains convoluted.

Beyond the legal aspects of this, what the new memo again shows is that the chances for legislative action on immigration are slipping away fast. If August recess comes without any action from House Republicans, Obama will come under truly withering pressure to act, not just from advocates but from Democratic lawmakers. He very well may do something to deprioritize and/or delay deportation for at least some more of the 11 million. And even if the action he does take falls well short of what advocates and Latino lawmakers want, it will likely set off a backlash among Republicans (who are already refusing to act because they “can’t trust Obama”) that will make legislative action even harder this year, into the lame duck session and beyond.

Republicans appear to believe they can simply defer action until 2015. But at that point, the GOP presidential primary will be underway, and it’s not hard to see presidential hopeful Ted Cruz demagoguing the heck out of the issue, setting in motion an anti-amnesty sludgefest. That could make it harder for more sensible GOP candidates to discuss serious reform and harder for Congressional Republicans to act. Plus, the current Senate bill will have expired. Action next year would also require a new Senate bill, voted on by folks like Marco Rubio, who may also be running for president and is already looking to get right with conservatives.

In short, there’s a real risk that it could only become harder for Republicans to act next year, not easier, meaning that if they don’t act by this summer, they could be heading into another presidential election without having fixed their problem with Latinos. Yet there is no indication Republicans have even bothered to think through the immigration reform calendar into next year. They don’t appear to have even considered the risks in waiting and appear convinced they are in total control of the timeline.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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