After more than a year of urging Congress to pass an immigration law, President Obama gave a fiery White House speech Monday, saying the time had come for him to act alone on the issue.
"The failure of House Republicans to pass a darn bill is bad for our security, it's bad for our economy and it's bad for our future," he said. "If Congress won't do their job, at least we can do ours."
The president laid out in a letter to congressional leaders Monday several steps his administration has taken in recent weeks to respond to an unprecedented surge in children caught crossing the border. More than 40,000 children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have been caught this year, and he has mobilized various federal agencies to house them and process them through the deportation system.
The president ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate the federal agencies that have been catching, processing and housing the children. The Department of Justice is in the process of reassigning immigration judges and U.S. attorneys to the border to speed up hearings in immigration court, and the Department of Health and Human Services has scoured the country to find places to put those children.
In March, Obama ordered Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to conduct a systemwide review of deportation practices to see how they could be done "more humanely." Obama later asked that the results of that review be postponed until the end of the summer to give Congress time to work through an immigration bill. Monday, with 28 days left in the legislative calendar, Obama said the review would be completed soon and would include changes to the country's immigration enforcement structure.
Obama said the only response from Republicans has been to use the crisis as their "newest excuse to do nothing."
"Their argument seems to be that because the system is broken, we shouldn't make an effort to fix it," he said. "It makes no sense. It's not on the level."
The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration rewrite last year, but House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he won't bring it up for a vote in his chamber. The House has not advanced its own legislation. Boehner told Obama last week that Republicans believe the president can't be trusted to carry out the immigration enforcement aspects of the bill.
"In our conversation last week, I told the president what I have been telling him for months now: The American people and their elected officials don't trust him to enforce the law as written," Boehner said in a statement after Obama's speech. "The crisis at our southern border reminds us all of the critical importance of fixing our broken immigration system. It is sad and disappointing that — faced with this challenge — 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."
Critics of his administration said Obama's statement proves he's not interested in passing a comprehensive fix of immigration laws in Congress and is worried only about the political fallout for the Democratic Party.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the president has developed a predictable practice of creating programs that help immigrants come election time. In June 2012, he created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that has allowed more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children to file with the federal government to avoid deportation. And now, Stein said, he will "conveniently" release the findings of his deportation review a few months before the election in November.
"(The speech) wasn't a sincere effort to advance policy. It was partisan," Stein said. "And now he will try to do the same, grand gesture somewhere between mid-August and the November election, a get-out-the-vote move."