President Obama asked the homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, in March to review the administration’s immigration enforcement policies. Obama was under intense pressure from immigrant advocates, frustrated at Congress’ inaction on reform, who were imploring him to act on his own to end or slow the pace of deportations. Now he’s backing off and asking Johnson to delay the review.
Obama has deported more people more quickly than any other president. When he said he would look for ways to make his deportation machinery “more humane,” that promise was a delaying action. He now wants to give Congress one more chance to work out compromise legislation, and he doesn’t want to give Republicans any excuse to block it.
There is something ridiculous about the president’s fear of halting a legislative process that has been motionless for nearly a year. And it’s infuriating for him to insist that doing more through executive action to protect families and reset the system’s warped priorities — as he did in halting the deportations of thousands of young people brought to the country as children — is impossible or too politically dangerous.
States and local governments are not waiting; they are pursuing their own reforms to block needless deportations and give immigrants a better chance at integrating into their communities. They are refusing to help federal immigration agents detain minor offenders and noncriminals, and looking for ways to issue ID cards and driver’s licenses to the undocumented. The failure on the federal front is not all Obama’s fault. House Republicans were handed a historic opportunity when the Senate passed an ambitious reform package last June. But the House speaker, John Boehner, refuses to bring it to a vote, and he and his caucus have spent the last year spewing excuses for inaction, starting with the claim that they don’t trust Obama to enforce the law.
Some immigrant-rights groups have sided with Obama’s latest delaying tactic, urging him on Tuesday to “move cautiously” and give members of the House leadership “all of the space they may need to bring legislation to the floor for a vote.” It is hard not to be skeptical of the president’s oft-repeated, oft-failed strategy of waiting for Republican legislators to do their jobs. Theirs is not a party that seems ready to embrace immigrants, to hand a domestic-policy triumph to a president they hate or to put the country and the will of the people ahead of narrow political interests.