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President Obama pushes immigration reform without Congress

June 30, 2014 at 6:45 PM EDT
President Obama says that until Congress does something about immigration reform, he will pursue the matter on his own. In the White House Rose Garden, the president said he was directing more agents to the U.S. border to respond to a flood of Central American migrant children arriving without parents, and would seek more recommendations from his advisors. Judy Woodruff talks to Julia Preston of the New York Times.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama announced today that he will take steps on his own to address the country’s immigration crisis, after being told that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will not vote on the issue this year.

The president said he was directing more agents to the Southern U.S. border in response to the thousands of children coming here from Central America without parents or relatives. He is also seeking recommendations for other executive actions from his team of immigration advisers by the end of the summer.

Here’s some of what he had to say:

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I believe Speaker Boehner when he says he wants to pass an immigration bill. I think he genuinely wants to get something done. But last week, he informed me that Republicans will continue to block a vote on immigration reform, at least for the remainder of this year.

Some in the House Republican Caucus are using the situation with unaccompanied children as their newest excuse to do nothing.

America cannot wait forever for them to act. And that’s why, today, I’m beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.

If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, the best solution to that is passing bills. Pass a bill. Solve a problem. Don’t just say no.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the president’s announcement, we turn to Julia Preston who covers immigration for The New York Times.

Welcome back to the “NewsHour,” Julia.

We know the Senate did vote a year ago. Why isn’t the House going to pass or deal with immigration legislation?

JULIA PRESTON, New York Times: Well, there has been a lot of division and dissension within the House about what to do about this issue.

Speaker Boehner has indicated that he would like the move ahead, but, in recent days, the defeat of the majority leader, Eric Cantor, and the surge of migrants across the border have really discouraged many House Republicans from moving forward on immigration reform.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what is the president saying exactly that he wants to see done? And when he says this, how much of a change is it for him?

JULIA PRESTON: Well, what he said today was that he has been informed by Speaker Boehner that there will be no votes in the House on immigration reform this year.

So the president announced that he’s going to use executive action to, as he put it, fix the immigration system as much as he can within the powers that he has. And the first step that he announced is that he’s going to be shifting enforcement resources from focusing on deporting people from the interior of the country down to the border, where there has been a big surge of illegal immigration across the border in South Texas.

So — and, in addition, he is going to ask Secretary Jeh Johnson of Homeland Security to continue a review that he’s been carrying out to find other measures to slow the pace of deportations and make other fixes to the immigration system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So how much of a shift does today’s announcement represent?

JULIA PRESTON: I think it represents a significant change of attitude by the president.

The Republicans in the House have blamed the president for creating this surge of illegal immigration across the border by past executive actions that he’s taken. For example, in 2012, the president offered deportation deferrals to young immigrants who had grown up undocumented in the United States.

And there’s a feeling in the House that that action has partially contributed to unleashing this surge of new illegal immigration across the border. The president today rejected that analysis, and he has put the Republicans in the House on notice that he’s going to move forward with his own actions to reduce the pace of deportations, perhaps to give deportation deferrals to a much broader group of people.

And he is going to go ahead and change the system, to the extent that it’s possible within his authorities.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, is it within his authority to do what he’s doing? As you know, there’s a lot of discussion and debate recently, in fact, the Supreme Court rulings, having do with how much power the president has.

Does he have the power to do what he announced today?

JULIA PRESTON: Well, there’s certainly a great deal of argument about that, but the president seemed to indicate today that he thinks he has quite substantial powers.

He didn’t mention specifically any other measures that he will take, but he did say that he expects this review by the homeland security secretary to be done by the end of the summer, and he did suggest that there would be broad measures that he would be taking.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Julia, will there be opposition to what the president is saying he wants to do now?

JULIA PRESTON: There is great opposition within the Republican Caucus, particularly in the House of Representatives.

Speaker Boehner has said that he is going to introduce legislation that would allow him and the House of Representatives to sue the president over past executive actions that the president has taken. So this is really going to be a tremendous flash point between the White House and the Republicans in the House, where there is already a great deal of polarization and difference of opinion.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does that mean the Republicans disagree with the move of sending more agents to the border?

JULIA PRESTON: No, I don’t think they disagree with that, but they disagree with the president acting on his own, without getting legislation from Congress.

And the reason that Republicans have given for not passing immigration legislation this year is because they distrust the president to enforce the current immigration laws. So, this is the argument that the Republicans have made, and that has stopped the process of legislation moving forward this year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s certainly something that’s gotten all of our attention.

Julia Preston with The New York Times, we thank you.

JULIA PRESTON: Thank you.