Obama Promises Executive Action on Immigration Reform

Plans to move enforcement from the interior to the border

By Roy Maurer Jul 1, 2014

President Barack Obama announced June 30, 2014, that his administration will take executive action this year to address the country’s immigration policies, effectively hammering the nail in the coffin of comprehensive legislative reform.

Obama laid the demise of reform at the feet of House Republicans, saying that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told him last week that the House would not vote on an immigration bill this year. Boehner’s office confirmed the discussion and released the following statement: “I told the president what I have been telling him for months: the American people and their elected officials don’t trust him to enforce the law as written. Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue.”

Calling the president’s announcement foreseeable, Angelo Paparelli, a partner in the business immigration practice group at Seyfarth Shaw, said that “the events culminating in the president’s announcement to take executive actions within his constitutional powers on immigration should surprise no one. What has unfolded over the last few months has been a slow-moving Kabuki theater display of intricate movement and posturing.”

The president promised to “fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress,” and announced the shift of “available and appropriate resources” from the interior to the border. “Protecting public safety and deporting dangerous criminals has been and will remain the top priority, but we are going to refocus our efforts where we can to make sure we do what it takes to keep our border secure,” Obama said.

This shift most likely means “less worksite enforcement for I-9 and unlawful employment violations, and a greater exercise of prosecutorial discretion to decline to start or to suspend deportation proceedings when low-priority undocumented immigrants are encountered,” said Paparelli.

The president also directed Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to identify additional actions the administration can take on its own. “If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours,” Obama said. “I expect their recommendations before the end of summer and I intend to adopt those recommendations without further delay.”

Paparelli said that Obama has “substantial powers to improve immigration on the ground,” including reforming the way green card numbers are counted, expanding the scope of the H-4 employment authorization provision so that it covers all H-4 wives and husbands, and creating new categories of employment authorization.

Boehner tied the record numbers of unaccompanied children streaming over the border into Texas in recent months with Obama’s immigration enforcement policies.

“The crisis at our southern border reminds us all of the critical importance of fixing our broken immigration system,” Boehner said. “It is sad and disappointing that faced with this challenge President Obama won’t work with us, but is instead intent on going it alone with executive orders that can’t and won’t fix these problems.”

The announcement came almost exactly one year since the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. “Here’s what a year of obstruction has meant,” Obama said. “It has meant fewer resources to strengthen our borders. It’s meant more businesses free to game the system by hiring undocumented workers, which punishes businesses that play by the rules, and drives down wages for hardworking Americans. It’s meant lost talent when the best and brightest from around the world come to study here but are forced to leave and then compete against our businesses and our workers.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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