by Jim Nintzel
President Barack Obama brought together two of the GOP’s favorite topics yesterday when he assailed House Speaker John Boehner for not acting on immigration reform and vowed to use whatever executive authority he had to push through administrative actions.
Obama cited the new influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America as the latest humanitarian crisis on the border—more than 1,000 refugee children are being housed in a Nogales detention center—and said that he’d prefer a legislative solution, but after Boehner told him that immigration reform was dead in the House for the remainder of the year, he felt compelled to act.
“Here’s what a year of obstruction has meant,” Obama said. “It has meant fewer resources to strengthen our borders. It’s meant more businesses free to game the system by hiring undocumented workers, which punishes businesses that play by the rules, and drives down wages for hardworking Americans. It’s meant lost talent when the best and brightest from around the world come to study here but are forced to leave and then compete against our businesses and our workers. It’s meant no chance for 11 million immigrants to come out of the shadows and earn their citizenship if they pay a penalty and pass a background check, pay their fair share of taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line. It’s meant the heartbreak of separated families.”
You can read his entire statement here, but here's the takeaway: Obama said he asked administration officials “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.”
Exactly what those legal actions will be remains to seen, but Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-CD3) praised Obama for changing course after facing “stonewalling” from House Republicans.
“There are many options available to the president, from extending deferred action to all deserving family members to allowing for prosecutorial discretion on deportations,” Grijalva said. “While the president’s announcement today is a welcome first step, the success of this effort will depend largely on what comes next. Sending more enforcement to our borders will do nothing for the men, women and children who are caught up in our broken system. Nor will it provide a humanitarian solution to the crisis of child refugees arriving from Central America.”
Congressman Ron Barber (D-CD2) didn’t weigh in on the merits of the executive action, but he did welcome $2 billion in assistance to deal with the unaccompanied minors who are flooding across the border.
Barber said the current crisis demonstrated why the federal government needed to start reimbursing state and local governments for the additional burden that illegal immigration creates and stressed the need for more security for border residents.
“The safety and security of Southern Arizona communities must be given the highest priority as we implement plans to stop the flow of unaccompanied children and others coming to the United States illegally,” Barber said in a prepared statement. “As I’ve said since day one, we must do this by putting more Border Patrol and other federal law enforcement personnel at the border. Our Border Patrol agents must no longer be tasked with providing childcare to unaccompanied immigrant children. They must be returned to their job of securing the border.”
Republican Martha McSally, who narrowly lost to Barber in 2012 and wants a rematch this year, said that it was “great to see that President Obama finally realizes what we here in Southern Arizona know all too well—that the border is not secure. Even though we have men and women serving in the Border Patrol who are doing the best they can, President Obama's Department of Homeland Security is directing a failed strategy, and it has been in his power and job description to devise a successful strategy for over six years, but he has failed. Securing the border and reforming our legal immigration system so it is focused on economic growth must be the first priority.”
In an earlier interview with the Weekly, McSally was critical of Obama’s use of executive authority to allow DREAM Act kids to remain in the United States rather than be deported to their home country. She has called the Senate’s immigration-reform bill “flawed” but has generally shied away from taking a position on the future legal status of undocumented immigrants now in the United States, saying that a path to citizenship “should be open to discussion.”
That’s an area where McSally and Barber disagree. Barber supports the DREAM Act and a path to citizenship for undocumented people now in the country who can pass a background check, pay fines and back taxes and wait more than a decade for citizenship.
Shelley Kais, who is facing McSally in the GOP primary, criticized Obama’s use of executive authority.
“The Constitution does not give the president the power to ignore the law simply because of his political agenda or the perception of popular opinion,” Kais said via email.
U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-CD1) called on House leaders to allow a vote on immigration reform.
Kirkpatrick said that the state “has suffered from federal inaction to fix our broken immigration system. But executive action can’t fix it. Piecemeal legislation can’t fix it. Congress must act—and pass comprehensive immigration reform. How many more emergencies will it take? Arizona families want reform. So do our small-business owners, chambers of commerce, educators, farmers and so many others. A full year ago, the U.S. Senate, including Arizona Senators McCain and Flake, passed tough, fair, comprehensive reform. It’s inexcusable—and downright pathetic—that House leaders are stonewalling on an issue so important to our nation.”
Three Republicans are vying in the August primary for the chance to challenge Kirkpatrick in November: Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin, state Rep. Adam Kwasman and rancher Gary Kiehne.
Tobin criticized Obama for deciding “to circumvent the legislative branch of government and implement an executive order that will do nothing but continue to allow the flow of illegal immigrants across our border.
“I helped pass SB 1070 because Washington wasn't taking this problem seriously, and the president continues to play games,” Tobin added in a prepared statement. “Obama clearly believes he’s above the law.”
Asked for a response to Obama’s comments, Kwasman took a shot at Tobin, who had previously told Capitol Media Services that he believed that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to remain in the United States as long as they registered with federal authorities and passed a background check.
“The best way to secure this border is by sending our national guard down there and finishing the double-layer fence,” said Kwasman. “I've been endorsed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, while Andy Tobin supports the Obama position of legal status for those who are here illegally.”
Kwasman favors deporting all undocumented immigrants, including DREAM Act kids unless they are willing to serve in the military.
Kiehne’s campaign manager, Chris Baker, did not respond to a request for comment about Obama’s comments regarding immigration.
But in earlier interviews, Kiehne has said that he believes that as long as undocumented immigrants can pass a background check, they should be allowed to remain in the United States with a work permit, but not be allowed to pursue citizenship.