Executive Inaction on Reform

President 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 continued to urge specific actions toward reform 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, even on a request for emergency funding to handle a surge of Central American children and families entering the country.

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With midterm 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 one concern of course is the number of families that will be separated from now until November,” Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy and public affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told The Los Angeles Times. “We would like to see families protected as soon as we can; however, we’d like to see them protected in a permanent way.”

The president said on 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 and offering parole to new categories of immigrants, like that given to Cubans during the Mariel boat lift in 1980.

While many advocates for executive actions bemoaned the administration’s delay, the chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ migration committee and its Catholic Legal Immigration Network on 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, Calif., chairman of Clinic, and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle, the migration committee chairman.

The bishops urged Johnson to authorize deferred deportation for several groups of people, including: those who have lived in the United States 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.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported on Sept. 11 that the administration has quietly slowed the rate of deportations by nearly 20 percent, after record-setting paces in 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. Among the reasons cited for the decrease is a shift in emphasis since 2011 toward deporting criminal immigrants and those who are thought to pose a security threat.

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