Instead of repeating his intention to act unilaterally by executive action to allow millions of illegal immigrants to remain in the country, Obama Thursday raised the possibility that Congress could still take action on broad changes to the nation’s immigration laws after the November elections.
“It continues to be my belief that if I can’t see congressional action, that I need to do at least what I can in order to make the system work better,” he told reporters during a press conference at the White House.
The border crisis sparked by tens of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children crossing into the country, he said, has kept the administration busy trying to redirect more immigration judges to the Texas border to try to expedite the legal process of determining whether they can stay.
“Some of these things do affect timelines…,” he said. “But have no doubt, in the absence of congressional action, I’m going to do what I can to make sure the system works better."
Since the border crisis became a national political issue, Democrats have grown worried that Obama’s determination to take executive action on immigration prior to November could motivate voters to vote to cast ballots for Republicans in this year's midterm elections.
Earlier Thursday, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., circulated an email with the heading “flashback!”
The email contained an Associated Press article from September 2013 in which Obama said he wouldn’t take further executive action to stop deportations of some immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. At the time, the president said providing additional relief for more illegal immigrants would essentially be ignoring the law, and he predicted he would have a hard time defending it legally.
In 2012, the Obama administration suspended deportations of some immigrants who had come into the country illegally as children.
Latino activist groups, however, are keeping the pressure on Obama to act on immigration immediately.
Police arrested more than 130 immigrants' rights activists in front of the White House Thursday.
Before the arrests, thousands of people marched from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters to the White House as part of “National Day of Action” events put on by immigration advocacy groups. The rally and others like it called for Obama to use executive action to allow millions of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States.
“Taking action through civil disobedience is one small measure to stop the suffering of immigrant families facing separation through deportation, and the suffering of the neighbors, friends, coworkers and co-congregants that love them,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland and CASA de Virginia, two pro-immigration groups.
“Today, on this national day to fight for families, we call on President Obama to do everything in his power to enact humane and compassionate administrative relief that will end our suffering.”
Other groups participating included the Communications Workers of America, the National Organization for Women, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, the Latin American Coalition of North Carolina and the Fair Immigration Reform Movement.
Meanwhile, Alfonso Aguilar, the executive director of the American Principles Project’s Latino Partnership, which advocates for legal immigration, argued that neither more executive actions nor putting National Guard troops at the border will help solve the child immigration problem.
Instead, he said, the U.S. must expand temporary foreign worker programs to give “foreign workers the opportunity to come to the U.S. to work and then return home again to their families.
“This would dry up demand for undocumented workers, help discourage illegal immigration, and drive 'coyotes' out of business. This will also allow the government to focus its efforts on more important security issues, such as keeping terrorists, drug traffickers, and other dangerous and violent criminals out of the country,” he said.
A federal guest worker program also “might foster economic opportunity and hope south of our border, the ultimate defense against violent, illegal industries.”