4:27pm

Thu July 17, 2014
Politics

Amid Roiled Landscape Of Border Politics, Obama's Plans May Change

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 8:40 pm

The Obama administration's request for more funds on immigration could get a congressional vote soon. Meanwhile, the crisis at the border is complicating Obama's plan to take unilateral action to ease deportations. The politics of immigration are shifting quickly.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

On the topic of immigration, especially child migrants, Congress could vote as early as next week on the Obama administration's request for more funds and flexibility. Meanwhile, the crisis at the border is affecting the larger debate about immigration reform. And it's complicating President Obama's plans to take unilateral action to ease deportations of immigrants who've been here illegally for years. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Immigration politics are volatile and complex, but until the flood of children on the border, immigration reform looked like a long-term winner for Democrats and a long-term loser for Republicans. But recent polls show that like any other chaotic situation from the Middle East to the VA, this one has taken a toll on Mr. Obama. A new Pew poll shows that only 28 percent approve of the way he's handling the border situation. That's why, says immigration reform advocate, Simon Rosenberg, the president needs to get the border under control fast.

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SIMON ROSENBERG: How this crisis gets resolved will dictate the next chapter in this ongoing debate. I think it's jumbled everything, and a lot will depend on whether or not the president looks like he's done a good job. And if he's handled this well, he's going to have a lot more political space with the public.

LIASSON: The White House is operating on two tracks. It's trying to resolve the immediate border crisis - in some cases that means accelerating deportations. Meanwhile, it's planning to move on the broader immigration problem. The administration is considering the legal and political ramifications of having the president take unilateral action to ease deportations for a whole other group of illegal immigrants - people who've been in this country for years.

Some Democrats have wondered whether the president could hurt his party if he uses his executive authority to offer wider deportation relief this fall before the midterm elections. But White House officials say there's no reason to delay. They point to polls that show public support is as strong as ever for providing a path to legal status for workers currently in the U.S. illegally. The White House plan remains as the president outlined it in a Rose Garden speech last month.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours.

LIASSON: With immigration reform blocked in the Republican House, Mr. Obama promised to act on his own, just as soon as his Attorney General and Homeland Security Secretary finish their review.

OBAMA: I expect the recommendations before the end of summer, and I intend to adopt those regulations without further delay.

LIASSON: There is a wide range of unilateral actions the president could take to build upon the action he took in 2012, when he used his executive authority to protect the dreamers - young people in college or the military who were brought here illegally as children. Beyond the dreamers, Mr. Obama could decide to provide temporary relief from deportation for the parents of dreamers, or people who work in certain industries or meet other criteria. What would be the reaction to such a move? It's hard to game out. There's no polling on how people would feel if the president unilaterally created a temporary worker program all by himself without congressional approval. There could be a huge backlash.

Daniel Garza, a conservative proponent of immigration reform, says the dreamers are a special case. Garza says most Americans will not feel the same way about other groups of illegal immigrants.

DANIEL GARZA: There's a lesser sympathy for the adults who have violated immigration law than there is for the children. I think people understand that children are brought here on their own. And I'm someone who is for immigration reform.

LIASSON: But Frank Sharry, an immigration reform advocate on the left, has a different analysis of what would happen if the president moved on his own to give large numbers of illegal immigrants relief.

FRANK SHARRY: I think that the combination of the thrills and reaction among Latinos and Progressives and Democrats will be equaled by the howls from the Republicans. And I think quite frankly, it will permanently cement the reputation of the Democrats as for immigrants and for the changing American electorate and Republicans as against it.

LIASSON: Sharry thinks if the president does move to expand deportation relief, he would force Republicans to say whether those immigrants should go back into the shadows or be deported right away. And he would unavoidably intensify the current debate about executive overreach.

SHARRY: It would be a bold move. It would create a huge reaction from the Republicans. It would protect millions of people and lead to a better quality of life. And the question is - is he brave enough to do it and what would be the political fallout?

LIASSON: Brave enough or foolish depending on your point of view. Widespread deportation relief is the kind of presidential action that could have long-lasting effects on the president's party and his legacy. But in the midst of the current crisis on the border, it's hard to determine if those effects would be positive or negative. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.