WASHINGTON, August 31, 2014 — President Obama has not yet picked up his pen or his phone to push his agenda this August recess. He has issued eight significant executive actions in the last four August recesses, including two on gun control in August 2013.
But so far this summer — nothing.
There was speculation that Obama would do something to stop corporate inversions during the 2014 recess that ends after Labor Day. He was widely expected to act on immigration, expanding his 2012 order stopping deportation of young people brought into the country as small children.
Those waiting for the White House to announce unilateral action on immigration are seeing that the turmoil in Syria, Israel and Ukraine has Obama focusing on foreign issues, even as issues at the border, the Veterans Administration, and the IRS continue to plague the White House.
In June, Obama said he would not wait for Republicans to move on immigration. He said that he would decided by the end of summer what he could do on immigration while staying within the constitutional limits of executive power.
Among the actions he was supposedly considering was deferring deportations for people in the U.S. illegally while also granting them permission to remain in the country and work legally.
That deadline has come, and might be gone, as the president deals with external crises, including the surge of children coming to the U.S. to seek refuge, many of them still being held in questionable detention facilities.
“Some of these things do affect time lines and we’re just going to be working through as systematically as possible in order to get this done,” Obama said.
Immigration advocates, frustrated with what they see as foot-dragging by the White House, vow to continue to press the president to act on immigration, despite indications that immigration has been tabled until after the November election.
More important to Obama than the humanitarian crisis might be keeping the border crisis and immigration below the radar until after the November elections; that may be a smart move by a beleaguered Democratic party.
“For us, the urgency is now,” said Cristina Jimenez, a co-founder of United We Dream, an organization of young immigrants who have staged some of the most high-profile protests and public confrontations with lawmakers on the issue. “We need the president to act to stop the deportation of our families. … We are going to hold him accountable.”
The next move for immigration advocates is either to increase public pressure on Obama to enact immigration reform or to sit back and hope he will take action after the 2014 midterm elections.
On Friday, the White House acknowledged it was possible that that the announcement might come later in the year and that could push any actions past the November elections.
“The president is determined to take the kinds of steps that are available to him,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Opponents call fowl, saying any delay in action is “playing politics” in order to avoid possible backlash during the 2014 elections.
Any presidential action on immigration may become a liability for Democrats in tough re-election campaigns. They would be the ones to suffer from any unilateral actions the president may take.
Chris Lehane, a California-based Democratic strategist, warns that Obama’s inaction could affect voters “enthusiastic “ about immigration from showing up to vote.
“All of these elections are going to be so laser-tight — 5,000 votes one way or the other — that at some level, what’s out there at the broader, national level at election time could push things over the edge,” Lehane said.
Though largely out of the headlines in the later weeks of the summer, the number of minors coming from Central America has dropped; however, the White House cannot claim credit for the decline. The White House has been warned that the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border could increase once cooler fall weather approaches.
Of the arguments being prepared by the president’s lawyers, the main one seems to be that Congressional inaction has forced the president to determine “which” illegal immigrants must leave or can stay.
The White House says that Congress has left the administration with too few resources to enforce every law and deport all of the roughly 11.5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
The timing of any announcements could affect the way Congress approaches the short-term spending bill it must pass this fall to keep the government running through December.
It is at the top of the agenda when the House and Senate return from their August recess on Tuesday.