Once again, Obama gets squeezed on immigration
WASHINGTON — The Republican takeover of Congress may have shaken up Washington, but it has left President Obama in the same position on immigration: squeezed between angry congressional Republicans and even angrier immigration advocates.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged the president to hold off on a long-promised executive action that would legalize millions of undocumented immigrants.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., one of the strongest Republican proponents of an immigration bill that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants, said such a move by the president would be the equivalent of “pulling the pin off a hand grenade and tossing it into the middle of the room.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the co-authors of a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate last year, said it would “poison the well,” a phrase repeated by other GOP leaders.
Immigration advocates say they’ve heard that song before.
“That well hasn’t had water for a long time,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
Immigration groups are responding in full force. Hundreds of undocumented immigrants are likely to rally outside the White House on Friday, followed by protests, marches and hunger strikes in the weeks to come. They were already fuming over Obama’s decision to postpone his executive action after setting a summer deadline, and they say they won’t let him get away with missing his latest promise to act before the end of the year.
“We won’t take any more excuses,” said Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream, a youth-led immigration advocacy group, during a joint news conference with other groups Wednesday. “The president has to act now.”
If Washington can move past Obama’s decision on unilateral action, the road doesn’t get any easier.
Some Republicans, such as Diaz-Balart, say a comprehensive law that secures the border, overhauls the legal immigration system and addresses the status of the nation’s undocumented immigrants is the best way forward. More skeptical Republicans rally around a plan to change immigration laws one by one, starting with a bill that would further secure the border.
Wednesday, Brooke Sammon, a spokeswoman for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., another co-author of last year’s Senate immigration bill, said he favors that border-first approach. “Only once Americans are confident there won’t be future waves of illegal immigration can we address the problem of the millions of illegal immigrants currently here,” she said.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in line to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee in the new Congress, prefers that any immigration bills start in the House, according to spokeswoman Beth Levine. House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has long maintained that immigration should be passed bill by bill, meaning a border security bill could be the first one headed to the president’s desk.
That would put Obama in an incredibly difficult position, said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for lower levels of legal and illegal immigration.
If the president vetoes a security-only bill because it doesn’t include any protections for undocumented immigrants, a move that Democrats and immigration advocates would applaud, Beck said, Republicans could say they tried to do something but were blocked by the president. If Obama signs such a bill, Beck said, he would enrage his base and run the risk that Congress passes no other immigration bills.
“He’s going to be in a tight spot,” Beck said.
If they resolve border security, they would be on to the larger question of legalizing some portion of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Many Republicans will oppose what they call “amnesty,” but Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., says they’re in the minority.
Flake, another co-author of the Senate’s immigration bill, said he does not believe Republicans will pass border security, then fail to take action on creating a way for undocumented immigrants to earn the right to stay.
“There are some Republicans who obviously don’t want to address that at all,” Flake said, “but I think the vast majority know that it needs to be dealt with. And I believe it will be.”
Gomez reported from Miami.