In a press conference following the midterm elections, President Obama reaffirmed his intention to use executive action to begin tackling our nation’s immigration problem. New media reports shed light on private negotiations on immigration reform between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner that began soon after the 2012 election. Speaker Boehner was likely feeling the pressure after a Republican National Committee-commissioned “autopsy report” of their electoral losses declared their party “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform” in order to win future elections.
As the year-long negotiations progressed, Speaker Boehner needed political cover to maneuver within his party, prompting President Obama to continue to compromise in pursuit of House support for the already-passed bipartisan Senate immigration bill:
- No public criticism of Republicans members on immigration policy
- No trips in 2013 to battleground states with large Hispanic populations
- Back piecemeal reforms rather than one big bill overhauling immigration policy
- Defer executive action until after the summer
After what seemed to be a good faith effort by both sides, Speaker Boehner, yet again, just couldn’t deliver the votes, particularly from the extreme Tea Party members of his caucus. To further impede the process, the Republicans apparently reversed course on the necessity of immigration reforms after their recent electoral gains. When Speaker Boehner and future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released outlines of their upcoming legislative agendas, immigration reform wasn’t included. Similarly, even Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, backed away from the idea of compromise.
The inflammatory rhetoric of the GOP, including talk of lawsuits and impeachment, would have you believe that Obama is running roughshod over the Constitution, but that’s simply not the case. President Obama has signed fewer executive orders than any president since the 19th century, and multiple Republican presidents have explicitly used executive action to address immigration issues.
For example, President Ronald Reagan used executive action in 1987 to ease immigration standards for 200,000 Nicaraguan exiles in the United States, even if their requests for asylum had already been denied. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush protected Chinese students who feared persecution if sent back to their homeland, and he later delayed the deportation of hundreds of Kuwaitis who were evacuated during the Iraqi occupation. President George W. Bush granted “temporary protected status” to as many as 150,000 Salvadorans after a devastating earthquake in 2001. The next year, he signed an executive order that expedited naturalization for green card holders who enlisted in the military.
It continues to be clear from recent reporting that President Obama went above and beyond to work with Speaker Boehner on immigration reform. Despite years of good faith efforts by President Obama, Boehner recently “warned that unilateral action by President Barack Obama would ‘poison the well’ for any cooperation with the new GOP Congress.” Yet they leave the president no choice. With no hope for Republican action on the horizon, President Obama must use his executive authority to address the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in our country.