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Obama’s immigration delay gives ammunition to his critics

Alex Wong

1. On June 30th, President Barack Obama stood in the Rose Garden and said, "I have also directed Secretary Johnson and Attorney General Holder to identify additional actions my administration can take on our own, within my existing legal authorities, to do what Congress refuses to do and fix as much of our immigration system as we can. If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours. I expect their recommendations before the end of summer and I intend to adopt those recommendations without further delay."

2. But intentions change. On Saturday, the White House further delayed those recommendations, and their implementation. The cause appears to be the midterm elections. "White House officials" told the New York Times that the decision was made in response to "fellow Democrats who feared that acting now could doom his party's chances this fall."

3. In a statement to Greg Sargent, a White House official says the delay is in service of more defensible policy. "The reality the President has had to weigh is that we're in the midst of the political season, and because of the Republicans' extreme politicization of this issue, the President believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections. Because he wants to do this in a way that's sustainable, the President will take action on immigration before the end of the year." There is something odd about accusing Republicans of politicizing action on immigration reform while you're delaying it because of the electoral calendar.

4. The criticism of Obama's executive action on immigration has been that it's an undemocratic end-run around congressional gridlock. This makes it even less democratic. Putting aside the contested question of the (unknown) policy's legality, Senator Mitch McConnell has a point when he says, "What's so cynical about today's immigration announcement is that the president isn't saying he'll follow the law, he's just saying he'll go around the law once it's too late for Americans to hold his party accountable in the November elections."

5. Senate Democrats are pleased, though. Buzzfeed quotes a staffer for a red-state Democrat running for reelection: "It absolutely helps. In a state like ours, the immigration attacks poll strongly for the opposition, and this news takes away at least some of the immediacy. Now, the specter of executive action from an unpopular president will remain a weapon until November, but being an immigration alarmist just got harder for the Republican Party."

6. Immigration advocates are...less pleased. Frank Sharry, director of America's Voice, told the AP: "We are bitterly disappointed in the president and we are bitterly disappointed in the Senate Democrats. We advocates didn't make the reform promise; we just made the mistake of believing it."

7. They're angry because the consequences for immigrants are real. If the pace of deportations is similar to what it was in 2013 — the most recent year for which we have data — about 60,000 immigrants will be deported between now and election day.*

8. This is the problem with the White House's decision — and, to some degree, the way they've managed this whole issue. If these deportations are a crisis that merits deeply controversial, extra-congressional action, then it's hard to countenance a politically motivated delay. If they're not such a crisis that immediate action is needed, then why go around Congress in the first place?

9. In those June 30th remarks, Obama slammed Republicans for defying "the will of the majority of the American people who support reform." It is hard to attack Republicans for defying the will of the majority of the American people but then delay your own immigration actions until after the election.

10. The White House may be right that delaying the decision will reduce its short-term political cost. But it comes at the price of making the criticisms against the policy much more potent.

*Correction: This article originally said the most recent deportations data was from 2012. In fact, 2013 numbers have been released, and they show a pace of deportations that would imply 60,000 deportations by the election, not 70,000.