President Obama may be ready to ease up on deportations, following
reported recommendations under consideration by the Homeland Security
secretary. That would please key elements of the Democratic base, but
By Linda Feldmann
WASHINGTON — President Obama has long insisted he does not have the
power to waive deportations of illegal immigrants on his own.
But under pressure from political allies, Mr. Obama may be headed for
some changes of immigration policy via the Department of Homeland
Security. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson is considering limiting
deportations of undocumented immigrants who do not have serious
criminal records, the Associated Press reported Monday.
Obama set the stage for the reported recommendations last month, when
he ordered Secretary Johnson to review how current immigration law is
implemented, with an eye toward conducting enforcement “more
humanely,” as the White House put it.
The change of policy, if adopted, “could shield tens of thousands of
immigrants now removed each year solely because they committed repeat
immigration violations, such as reentering the country illegally after
having been deported, failing to comply with a deportation order, or
missing an immigration court date,” the AP reported.
Such a move would fall short of the larger changes pro-immigrant
activists are hoping for, such as granting work permits to the
illegal-immigrant parents of American-born children. At the same time,
any unilateral move by the administration that grants new rights to
certain illegal immigrants would likely anger Republicans, who accuse
Obama of abusing his executive powers.
The president has long said the only way to achieve comprehensive
immigration reform is to go through Congress. But almost a year after
the Senate passed reform legislation on a bipartisan vote, the
Republican-controlled House has yet to act.
Earlier this month, House Speaker John Boehner warned Obama not to act
on his own, saying it would make it “almost impossible” to earn the
trust needed to pass a new law.
In a press conference last week, Obama acknowledged Republicans’
political challenge, but again made the case for addressing the
difficulties of families with members who face the threat of
“I… know it’s hard politics for Republicans, because there are some
in their base that are very opposed to this,” Obama said. “But what I
also know is that there are families all across the country who are
experiencing great hardship and pain because this is not getting
On Monday, the AFL-CIO called on the administration to grant work
authorization to undocumented immigrants who are already deemed low
priority for deportation, and argued that DHS has the legal authority
to do so.
“This would stop employers from ‘playing the deportation card’ that
pits workers against each other,” the nation’s largest trade-union
federation said in a policy statement.
Undocumented workers can be subject to exploitation, such as being
short-changed on overtime pay, enduring unsafe work conditions, or
feeling unable to pursue a legitimate workmen’s compensation claim,
labor officials say.
The federation’s call for more rights for undocumented workers seemed
to pit labor against its ally, Obama. But in making interim changes to
policy via executive action, the president could still come out ahead
politically, said AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser.
“We’re motivated on policy, but we do believe it’s a win-win on
politics as well,” Mr. Hauser said.
Obama’s job approval among Democrats has been slipping, but if he were
to ease up on deportations, he would energize his base ahead of the
November midterm elections, the argument goes. Democrats are fighting
to hold onto their majority in the Senate, and their biggest fear is
And what about the Republicans angered by a unilateral move by Obama
on immigration? If the president’s support rises among immigrant
communities and their allies, including churches and labor, that
increases pressure on Republicans to deliver on immigration reform.
“There are people who say it’s a choice between legislation and
executive action,” said Hauser. “We absolutely believe that’s a false
choice — that in fact, executive action increases the odds of