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Obama says he'll act alone on immigration
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Obama says he'll act alone on immigration

  • President Barack Obama speaks at Applied Materials, Inc. in Austin.
    Tamir Kalifa/Texas TribunePresident Barack Obama speaks at Applied Materials, Inc. in Austin.

President Obama said Monday that because Congress refuses to act on immigration reform, he is ready to fix as much of the broken system as he can on his own.

The threat, made as tens of thousands of immigrants from Central America continue to flood over the country's southern border into Texas, was directed at House Republicans who he said have refused to vote on an omnibus immigration bill passed by the U.S. Senate last year

Obama said he would direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to provide him with a list of options his administration could take within "existing legal authorities."

"I expect the recommendations before the end of the summer and I intend to adopt those recommendations without further delay," he said.

The only immediate action the administration will take is to shift funds around from existing sources to place more resources on the border. Obama said he will direct DHS and Holder to "move available and appropriate resources from our interior to the border."

"Protecting public safety and deporting dangerous criminals has been and will remain the top priority," Obama said, "but we are going to refocus our efforts where we can to make sure we do what it takes to keep our border secure."

The migrant surge of the last several weeks has further polarized a country already divided on immigration reform. Republicans blame the administration's policies for confusing undocumented immigrants and luring them northward. Democrats counter that violence and poverty have spurred the exodus, citing the rates of homicides in Central American countries. According to a 2014 United Nations report, Honduras is the most violent country in the world. El Salvador and Guatemala are fourth and fifth, respectively. 

In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the current surge at the border is a reminder that the nation's immigration system in broken. But he said the president had refused to work with his party.

"President Obama won't work with us, but is instead intent on going it alone with executive orders that can't and won't fix these problems," he said in a statement. "The president's own executive orders have led directly to the humanitarian crisis along the southern border, giving false hope to children and their families that if they enter the country illegally they will be allowed to stay."

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, added: "Given the current crisis on the southern border, how can the president consider more pen and phone policy changes that will lead to another surge of illegal immigration and put more lives in danger?"

Republicans have said White House policies like 2012's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, has given some Central American families false hope about what awaits them after they enter the country.

The policy grants certain undocumented immigrants a work permit and relief from deportation proceedings, but it only applies to those who have been in the country since 2007.

Obama said the problem is that the current system is confusing and flawed. And he reiterated that most of the children who have been apprehended on the border will likely be deported.

"The system is so broken, so unclear, that folks don't know what the rules are," he said.

He added that his previous use of executive action has angered House Republicans, and said the solution to that is to pass legislation. "Pass a bill," he said, "solve a problem."

The number of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. over its southern border in the last nine months is up 99 percent over the previous fiscal year. That includes a 178 percent increase in the U.S. Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley sector — from 13,532 to 37,621. The Big Bend, Del Rio and El Paso sectors have seen spikes of 59 percent, 79 percent and 33 percent, respectively, according to statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Local reaction

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva said Obama's announcement is "a welcome first step," while U.S. Rep. Ron Barber called for more federal personnel on the border, and said that Border Patrol agents should not be tasked with caring for unaccompanied migrant children. Barber called for the federal government to reimburse local jurisdictions for "the expense of this failure of leadership and inaction in Washington."

Late in the day, Gov. Jan Brewer blasted the president, saying he is "threatening to look for ways to act unilaterally to implement his immigration agenda using executive fiat."

"After 18 months of political stonewalling and 12 months of ignoring the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill, I am glad to see the president is prepared to act where congressional Republicans refuse," Grijalva said in a press release. "There are many options available to the president, from extending deferred action to all deserving family members to allowing for prosecutorial discretion on deportations."

"While the president's announcement today is a welcome first step, the success of this effort will depend largely on what comes next," Grijalva said. "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. I look forward to the president's next steps, and urge him to focus his efforts on protecting vulnerable families going forward."

Barber issued a statement praising the work of BP agents. "The recent influx of unaccompanied children entering our country illegally has made a difficult mission even more challenging," he said.

"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. "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."

"Arizona, towns, cities and agencies must be reimbursed for the services they provide because the federal government has failed to secure our border," Barber said.

Obama's speech "offered little more than the predictable rhetoric and blame shifting we have come to expect," Brewer said in a press release just after 5 p.m.

"The country is faced with an unprecedented crisis: massive, unending waves of illegal aliens crossing our southern border, overwhelming federal authorities and their ability to enforce the law — all while costing taxpayers billions in the process," Brewer said.

Brewer called for an increase in border agents in Texas, expedited deportation hearings, and "reexamining" aid to the countries of origin of undocumented immigrants "until they act to stop the flow of illegal immigrants out of or through their countries."

— Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

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