If immigration reform sputters in the deeply divided U.S. Congress, supporters are planning to push President Barack Obama to act on his own to help 11 million illegal aliens, lawmakers and immigration advocates said.
Immigration law experts, some senators and House Democratic aides speculated that if Congress cannot agree on a wide-ranging immigration bill this year, Obama could use his executive authority to stop deporting parents of children living in the United States illegally.
Many of those children have won temporary reprieves on deportation and broadening the protection to their parents would be a way of keeping immigrant families together.
Navigating around Congress comes with plenty of drawbacks, though, since anything Obama could do would not be as lasting as enacting a law. Furthermore, he could not use his own powers to make sweeping changes, such as creating a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented.
Any such measures are certain to provoke a reaction from Republicans. But immigrant groups would argue that some action from the White House is better than putting up with existing conditions.
Obama also could sidestep Republican opposition to legislation by helping a broader spectrum of illegal residents who have been in the United States for prolonged periods, say 10 years or more, for temporary legal status if they have clean records.
“You could make a persuasive policy argument that those are the people who have most fully sunk roots into communities, most convincingly demonstrating they’re contributing in the labor market,” said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute. “Many are paying U.S. taxes and raising families in their adopted country.”
With Congress in a five-week recess and many Republicans balking at “amnesty” for those living in the United States illegally, chances are worsening for passing a comprehensive immigration bill this year, even with the Senate’s bipartisan backing in June for such a measure.
“There’s a huge degree of effort and support going into immigration reform and if it fails (in Congress), all of that effort and support will turn right back on the administration to do something for constituents that have been hurting and are important to the president,” Meissner said.