President Obama just hit pause on his administration's review of deportation policies — meaning 97,000 more people will be deported before the White House takes action. The move is intended to give House Republicans one last chance to pass an immigration bill.
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is bragging about stopping "amnesty," and Speaker John Boehner dismisses Obama's announcement as "playing politics." There are big questions about whether Obama's strategy will work.
How likely is the House to vote on any immigration bill between now and August?
Obama's delaying the deportation review until the "end of summer." That doesn't give House Republicans much time to act: they're only in session for 31 days between now and the end of July, then go into recess until after Labor Day.
A lot would have to happen in those 31 days. House Republicans would have to agree on what they wanted to do on immigration reform — or if they were willing to do anything at all. They'd have to write and introduce a bill. They'd send it through one or more committees for amendments. Then they'd consider amendments and debate on the House floor.
One Republican attack on the immigration bill the Senate passed last year was that it was passed too quickly, without enough time for debate. The Senate passed its bill 42 legislative days after it was introduced. For House Republicans to act on immigration by the end of summer, they'd have to move substantially faster.
How likely is the House to vote on any immigration bill that would address unauthorized immigrants?
Speaker Boehner supports tackling immigration in "bite-sized" pieces — which probably means several bills that each tackle one aspect of immigration, rather than one comprehensive bill. And there's much less appetite in the Republican caucus for a bill protecting deportable immigrants than there is for bills to increase border security or the number of high-skilled visas.
It's possible that one "bite-sized" immigration bill would provide legal status or citizenship for young unauthorized immigrants, or DREAMers. But the immigrants who'd be protected by that bill aren't in danger of getting deported now either. They're protected by the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which started two years ago, and will start allowing recipients to renew their protection this summer.
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is sending out mailings this week bragging about his role in stopping the "Obama-Reid amnesty." That doesn't suggest much interest, even among House leadership, in addressing unauthorized immigrants.
Why is continuing to deport immigrants better than waiting for Congress to decide who should stay?
In theory, if the two parties agreed that there are at least some unauthorized immigrants who shouldn't be deported, they would want to have the power to decide which ones get to stay. So what Republicans should, logically, be asking the White House to do is to pause deportations until they passed an immigration bill, then resume them — according to Congress' priorities of who should stay and who should go.
But House Republicans aren't taking that approach. Instead, they're making it clear that any change to deportations would kill an immigration bill. That means they're insisting on less power over deportations: the administration will keep deporting immigrants according to its own priorities, instead of Congress'.*
That said, those Cantor mailings (and recent complaints from House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte) are signs that maybe House Republicans don't believe that there are any unauthorized immigrants who shouldn't be deported.
But Democrats have said that they can't support any immigration reform that doesn't include legal status, with the eventual opportunity for citizenship, for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants currently in the United States. It's their key demand for immigration reform. If the two parties don't agree that at least some unauthorized immigrants should be protected from deportation and get legal status, why are they at the negotiating table to begin with?
Will this be enough of a goodwill gesture?
No House Republican has made any specific demands of the Obama administration on immigration, or said publicly that he or she would push for an immigration bill if the president made a gesture of goodwill. So it's not clear whether President Obama's announcement changes anyone's mind.
Furthermore, the announcement didn't stop the deportation review completely. What it did was instruct Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to keep going with the review, but wait to issue any recommendations until after this summer.
But at least one major recommendation has already been leaked — by police chiefs who met with Secretary Johnson in early May. Will House Republicans really be reassured that the administration isn't stepping on their toes if people know what changes are going to be made, but Secretary Johnson hasn't asked the President to make them yet?
Can Obama win Republicans' trust at all?
Concerns about executive overreach — on immigration and other issues — long predate this review. Obama ordered the deportation review in March. Republicans have been saying that the administration's actions make them less likely to act on immigration reform since last July. And some anti-immigration conservatives, like former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, have been calling for Obama's impeachment on immigration grounds since 2010 — back before the administration was protecting any immigrants from deportation, and was deporting 400,000 of them a year.
But do House Republicans even mean that the administration's actions on immigration are keeping them from passing a bill? Or do they mean that the administration's actions on the whole are preventing them from passing any new legislation at all? Republicans tend to point to delays in "Obamacare" implementation, for example, as a reason they shouldn't pursue immigration reform. That's not a trust deficit the White House can fix just by refusing to take administrative action on immigration.
UPDATE: this article was updated with Speaker Boehner's reaction to Obama's announcement.
*This passage has been updated to clarify that House Republicans have stated that administrative action on immigration reform would kill immigration reform.