Executive Inaction: Still waiting for changes on immigration policy

President Barack Obama's decision to delay executive measures on immigration until after the November elections drew sharp rebukes from some of the most vocal advocates for immigrants, while others plugged away at arguing for certain actions, and analysts weighed whether the delay hurts or helps candidates in close congressional races.

In June, Obama asked the heads of the departments of Justice and of Homeland Security to come up with possible steps he could take on his own to address some of the problems of the broken immigration system. He said he would move on those recommendations by summer's end, after word from congressional leaders that there was no chance they would act on even a request for emergency funding to handle a surge of Central American children and families entering the country.

With mid-term elections approaching in November, a political calculation to protect vulnerable Democrats from being linked to potentially unpopular actions appears to have taken precedence over that end-of-summer goal.

The New York Times and Politico reported that several Senate Democrats facing tough re-election bids had urged Obama not to act until at least after the elections.

In an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sept 7, Obama acknowledged the plan to delay administrative steps, and said "when I take executive action, I want to make sure it's sustainable," which would be more likely to happen "if the public understands what the facts are on immigration."

Obama said Sept. 5 during a NATO summit news conference in Wales that he was just then receiving proposals from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder. Among some of the possible steps that legal experts have suggested Obama might take are: extending to other groups the status given to certain young adults in the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and offering parole to new categories of immigrants, such as was given to Cubans during the Mariel boatlift.

While many advocates for executive actions bemoaned the delay, the chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' migration committee and its Catholic Legal Immigration Network Sept. 9 urged Johnson to begin protecting undocumented individuals and families as soon as possible.

"With immigration reform legislation stalled in Congress, our nation can no longer wait to end the suffering of family separation caused by our broken immigration system," said the letter from Bishop Kevin W. Vann of Orange, California, chairman of CLINIC, and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle, migration committee chairman.

The letter also was sent to Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of Homeland Security, Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and Denis McDonough, Obama's chief of staff.

Others decried the delay in executive action, saying Obama broke a promise to act soon and that he was giving in to fear mongers. Among those were The New York Times, leading Spanish-language U.S. news media, several advocacy organizations including the United Farm Workers, the Immigration Law Center and coalitions of DREAMers, as the young adults covered by DACA and related proposed legislation are known.

Focusing on what may yet come, the bishops' letter urged Johnson to authorize deferred deportation for several groups of people, including: those who have lived in the U.S. 10 years or longer who have strong ties here; parents of U.S. citizens; parents of recipients of DACA; and U.S. residents who already are approved for family or employment-based visas but whose cases are backlogged or blocked because of years-long bars on their applications.

The bishops also urged Johnson to restructure how the administration counts family members in quotas for visas; to expand the use of waivers for spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens; and to broaden the definition of how holders of "temporary protected status" are considered to have been "inspected and admitted" to the country so they can seek more permanent residency status.

"Many TPS grantees are long-term residents of the United States and have established roots in their communities, including families and lawful employment," the bishops said.

They added that the administration has the authority to "protect these families from separation and exploitation."

"As pastors concerned with the physical and spiritual welfare of our people, we can no longer wait to end the human suffering caused by our current immigration system," they said.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported Sept. 11 that the administration has quietly slowed the rate of deportations by nearly 20 percent, after record-setting paces the previous few years. Since Obama took office in 2009, the administration has deported more than 2.1 million people. The number of deportations this fiscal year -- 258,608 from Oct. 1 to July 28 -- is the lowest to date since 2007, the AP said.

Among the reasons cited for the decrease is a change in emphasis since 2011 on deporting criminal immigrants and those who are thought to pose a security threat. Immigration courts also have a backlog of 400,000 cases of people who may face deportation for overstaying visas or entering the country illegally. Also, a recent surge of immigrants from Central America has increased the volume of cases that take longer to process than those of immigrants from Mexico, who can more readily be returned to their home country.

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