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Obama considering immigration reform with executive actions, Congress readies to sue him

Published time: August 06, 2014 16:13
U.S. President Barack Obama (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. President Barack Obama (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

US President Barack Obama is reportedly considering options to move on immigration reform via executive action despite protests from disapproving members of Congress.

The Obama administration has offered little in the way of details as a review of potential options by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security continues. But according to The Washington Post, the Obama administration is considering "temporary relief for law-abiding undocumented immigrants who are closely related to U.S. citizens or those who have lived in the country a certain number of years." As many as five million migrants could be affected by such a move.

The executive actions would constitute Obama’s boldest second-term action in the face of congressional gridlock, observers say. Though the Obama administration has deported an unprecedented 400,000 undocumented immigrants per year, the ongoing crisis along the US-Mexico border has become unavoidable, prompting a showdown between the White House and political opponents on Capitol Hill over presidential power.

“House Republicans suggested that since they don’t expect to pass a bill I can sign, that I should go ahead and act on my own to solve the problem,” Obama said last week during a news conference regarding US Speaker John Boehner’s refusal to take up immigration reform in the Republican-led House.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) (Reuters)

According to the Center for American Progress, Obama’s options for executive action on the immigration issue fall into two categories: “enforcement reforms,” in which the administration could place a lower priority on deporting undocumented immigrants who don’t have a criminal history or who have ties to a community in the US; or “affirmative relief,” which could create a program to identify low-priority migrants and offer them relief from deportation, like the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that offers relief to unaccompanied minors who have crossed the border.

"We're asking the president to really go as broad as he can go," Cristina Jimenez, the cofounder and managing director of the pro-reform group United We Dream, told Business Insider. "He has a chance to make one of the boldest moves he possibly could. It depends on how he wants to be remembered."

The border crisis has intensified in recent months. For instance, more than 52,000 unaccompanied minors from South and Central America have crossed the Mexican border into the US seeking refuge from poverty and violence of their home nations.

The influx of children crossing the border from the likes of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador has prompted Obama to consider expanding DACA, a 2012 relief program that has delayed deportations of more than 550,000 younger immigrants, or to offer minors refugee status as the US has done in past humanitarian crises.

Obama has asserted that the uproar over executive actions coming from Republicans is curious given the common use of presidential power in the past.

"The broader point is that if, in fact, House Republicans are concerned about me acting independently of Congress — despite the fact that I’ve taken fewer executive actions than my Republican predecessor or my Democratic predecessor before that, or the Republican predecessor before that — then the easiest way to solve it is passing legislation. Get things done," Obama said last week.

Executive action is already the source of legal wrangling between the president and Republicans in Congress. Last month, the House authorized Speaker Boehner to sue Obama over his handling of the Affordable Care Act. Boehner and other Republicans allege that Obama has flouted his constitutional authority by unilaterally extending deadlines in the law, particularly those related to the employer mandate penalties.

Resource allocation is a main legal hurdle the administration would need to consider if it chooses executive action. The Impoundment Control Act requires the executive branch to only spend the money appropriated by Congress toward the purpose outlined by the legislative branch.

"The situation requires faithful execution of appropriation laws," David Martin, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and immigration law specialist, told Business Insider. "If they drop far below that, then there'd be real legal issues."

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