Friday, November 21, 2014

President Obama: Presses Congress to Move on Immigration Reform that lives up to our heritage as a nation of Immigrants

LAS VEGAS — President Obama opened up a campaign on Friday to convince Americans that five million undocumented immigrants should be protected from deportation as he told an audience of mostly Latino high school students that Congress had to revamp what he called the nation’s broken immigration system.

It was the same Las Vegas school where nearly two years ago Mr. Obama laid out principles that eventually became the core of a bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013, helped along by Republican worries that they were rapidly losing traction in states like Nevada, where Hispanic voters are among the fastest-growing constituency.

“Pass a bill,” Mr. Obama thundered to Republicans as he spoke at a rally of about 1,600 people in the Del Sol High School gymnasium. “You don’t need me to call a vote to pass a bill. Pass a bill.”
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In Washington, Republicans continued to harshly criticize the executive actions the president announced on Thursday that will allow millions of undocumented immigrants to remain in the country and work legally without threat of deportation. Speaker John A. Boehner said Mr. Obama was “damaging the presidency itself” by abusing the power of his office, and accused the president of trying to “deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek.”

Mr. Obama’s decision to act unilaterally on immigration, announced in a prime-time address on Thursday night, came after months of congressional gridlock, in which the broad immigration overhaul that passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support died in the Republican-controlled House.

On Friday, the president said he had no choice but to act on his own.
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“It has now been 512 days, a year and a half, in which the only thing standing in the way of that bipartisan bill and my desk, so I can sign the bill, is a simple yes or no vote in the House of Representatives,” Mr. Obama told the enthusiastic crowd.

The president said that he had repeatedly urged Mr. Boehner to let the Senate bill come to a vote on the floor of the House, but to no avail. He said that he believed the Senate bill would have passed in the House if Mr. Boehner had let the full membership vote.

“I cajoled, and I called, and I met,” Mr. Obama said. “I told John Boehner I would — ‘Yeah, I’ll wash your car, I’ll walk your dog. Whatever you need to do, just call the bill.’ That’s how democracy is supposed to work. And if the votes hadn’t been there, then we would have had to start over, but at least give it a shot. And he didn’t do it.”

White House aides called the trip back to Del Sol High School an example of political “symmetry.” They said the president was eager to return to declare that he had made good — at least in part — on the promise he made on his earlier visit, in January 2013.

As an indication that the president’s actions fall short of what he and activists have long sought, Mr. Obama was interrupted during his speech by a heckler who appeared to yell that not all undocumented immigrants would be helped under the actions Mr. Obama announced Thursday.
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“I heard you, and what I’m telling you is, we’re still going to have to pass a bill,” Mr. Obama said. “What I’m saying is, this is just a first step.”

Around the country, Mr. Obama’s critics began searching for ways to block his action. Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., an ardent opponent of immigration, said the president was granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants and filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court for the District of Columbia seeking “to have the president and the other defendants obey the U.S. Constitution.”

In Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, the state attorney general, promised to file a similar lawsuit. In a statement, he called the president’s executive actions “ill-advised, unworkable, unlawful and brazenly political.”

The American people are not stupid, and can see right through this blatantly political power grab on the part of the president,” Mr. Pruitt said.

But the president’s executive action — and his call for congressional action — thrust Republicans into a political challenge of their own. In the run-up to his announcement and in the hours afterward, Republicans struggled to balance their anger over what they say is Mr. Obama’s abuse of power with their fears that they could damage the party’s standing with Latino voters, the nation’s fastest-growing minority, and imperil their agenda when they take over control of both chambers of Congress next year.

So Republicans have focused their fury on the president for what they call “executive amnesty.” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader, warned on Thursday against the president’s “brazen power grab.”

Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that the president’s actions were not only unconstitutional but also “a threat to our democracy.” He promised to “use every tool at my disposal to stop the president’s unconstitutional actions from being implemented.”

Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, a longtime opponent of a broad immigration overhaul, said in a phone interview that Congress should fight back by funding all of the government except those agencies carrying out the president’s order.

“The president is the one who is acting provocatively, not the Congress,” Mr. Sessions said. “The last thing this Congress wants to do is have this kind of fight, but at some point the institution has to defend itself.

However, the agency that will carry out most of the president’s actions, Citizenship and Immigration Services, is funded with application fees and does not rely on a budget vote in Congress to keep it operating. Traveling on Air Force One from Washington, Mr. Obama’s top aides waved aside the legal criticism and released a letter from 10 legal scholars who wrote that the president’s actions were proper.

“We would not endorse an executive action that constituted an abdication of the president’s responsibility to enforce the law or that was inconsistent with the purposes underlying a statutory scheme,” the scholars wrote. “But these limits on the lawful exercise of prosecutorial discretion are not breached here.”

Mr. Obama traveled to Las Vegas with several Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who will lose his title as majority leader when the new Republican-controlled Congress convenes in January.

The visit was a public relations event designed to build support for the president’s actions even as it could help Mr. Reid attract support among Hispanics. An analysis of voting patterns by Latino Decisions found that Mr. Reid won nine out of 10 Latino voters in his 2010 re-election bid.

Michael D. Shear reported from Las Vegas, and Ashley Parker from Washington

New York Times
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