WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama will wait until after November’s midterm elections to reform the US immigration system with his executive power, seeking to shield lawmakers crucial to Democratic Party hopes of clinging on to the Senate.
The move, announced by a White House official Saturday and immediately condemned by immigration reform advocates, followed calls by vulnerable Democrats battling for reelection in conservative states for him to avoid action that could energise Republican voters.
The official said, however, that Obama would wield his presidential power before the end of the year to reshape a system that a gridlocked Congress has failed to fix.
That means the issue will explode in the early exchanges of the 2016 presidential race, and could force Republican candidates to take positions harmful to their standing with the crucial bloc of Hispanic voters that will be key in deciding who succeeds Obama.
But the president will have to win back the support of immigration advocates who were deeply dismayed by Saturday’s announcement, accusing him of a “breathtaking” move that will sacrifice immigrant families for political gain.
Obama’s determination to use executive powers to tackle the issue of illegal immigration – and the fates of some of the 11 million undocumented in the country – has already ignited a firestorm, and Republicans argue that his effort would exceed the authority of his office.
“The reality the president has had to weigh is that we’re in the midst of the political season,” the official said, after Obama considered his decision on a flight back across the Atlantic from a NATO summit on Friday.
“Because of the Republicans’ extreme politicisation of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections,” the official added.
“Because he wants to do this in a way that’s sustainable, the president will take action on immigration before the end of the year.”
Obama’s initiative could involve halting deportation proceedings against some illegal immigrants and changing the system of issuing legal immigration documents to foreigners, known as Green Cards.
He may also choose to expand a programme that offers temporary visas to illegal immigrants who entered the country before they were 16 – and possibly include their parents.