A bipartisan think tank is pushing back against immigration advocates who want President Obama to use his executive authority to expand a program to defer the deportations of undocumented immigrants.
The nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center said Thursday that doing so would undermine the public's faith in immigration laws and undercut the legislative process in Congress, where lawmakers are debating a broader immigration overhaul.
In a statement, the think tank's immigration task force said that using "the president’s executive authority to sidestep Congress would undermine that trust and confirm the fears of those who believe the government is not serious about upholding all elements of reform, particularly the implementation of stronger border security measures and workplace screening of undocumented individuals."
Obama implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has allowed more than 400,000 young people brought to the country illegally by their parents to live and work in the United States, during his reelection campaign last year.
But the president has also looked skeptically at calls from advocates to expand it. Last month, he said he would not expand the program -- which ultimately could benefit an estimated 1.7 million younger immigrants known as "Dreamers" -- to cover more of the nation's 11 million undocumented workers and students.
Obama's position angered many immigrant rights groups, who have grown increasingly frustrated at the administration's record number of deportations, estimated at more than 1,000 per day. The advocates also fear that a comprehensive immigration bill that was approved by the Senate in June has lost political momentum after House Republican leaders refused to support it.
The GOP leaders have said they are focused on a series of smaller-scale immigration bills, but advocates are concerned that lawmakers are too distracted by fights over the budget and government shutdown to move forward on immigration.
The Bipartisan Policy Center, which includes former members of the Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, and the think tank has faced questions about its independence from the business interests that provide financing.
In its statement, the center's immigration task force said expanding the deferment program would be a "temporary device" subject to being overturned "on the desires of whoever is president at a particular moment."
Henry Cisneros, a task force member a housing secretary under Bill Clinton, said he supported Obama's decision to defer deportations for younger immigrants. But he said expanding that program would prompt a backlash against Obama.
"It would generate such anger that it would probably jeopardize the ability to go forward in good faith," Cisneros said. "I share in the frustration of the pace of reform ... but that doesn't change the need to stay the course and keep trying."
Former Bush administration Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, also a task force member, added that "this kind of effort to defer across the board will undercut whatever momentum we have in Congress to get this done. It will let everyone off the hook; they won't have to do anything."