Politics & Policy

Obama’s Immigration Non-Enforcement Actions

A timeline of the president’s efforts to undermine existing immigration law.

President Obama is facing a major hurdle in trying to get his immigration rewrite through the House: Members of Congress just don’t trust him.

Republicans, who control a majority of seats in the House, doubt Obama will faithfully enforce new immigration laws, and they point to his repeated violations of existing law as evidence. Even reform champions such as Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) concede that “it’s difficult to find a good answer” to this charge.

Opponents are quick to cite the Obama administration’s selective enforcement of Obamacare, along with its tendency to bypass Congress via executive order, as evidence that the president would readily disregard aspects of an immigration-reform law he doesn’t like, such as provisions to secure the border.

Republicans can also point to myriad examples of the Obama administration’s selective enforcement of existing immigration laws. The list is longer than even some GOP opponents of comprehensive reform realize.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), an ally of House opponents of a new immigration bill, has compiled an exhaustive timeline of the administration’s efforts to “dismantle immigration enforcement” since January 2009, when the Department of Homeland Security announced the first in a series of delays to the deadline by which federal contractors were supposed to have implemented an employment-verification (E-verify) system.

Since 2009, the Obama administration has repeatedly invoked executive authority to limit the ability of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to follow the law, and has severely restricted their ability to initiate deportations proceedings, even against illegal immigrants who have been arrested on felony charges.

For years the administration has directed government attorneys to dismiss thousands of deportation cases against illegal immigrants. The White House has also pressed employees of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to speed up approval of applications.  

As early as July 2010, the White House began contemplating “Administrative Alternatives to Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” or ways that Obama could achieve policy outcomes absent action from Congress. In many instances, it has followed through on these suggested “alternatives,” most notably in June 2012, when the administration unilaterally implemented portions of the DREAM Act, legislation that had repeatedly failed to pass Congress. Since then, the administration has granted legal status to more than 500,000 applicants, while rejecting fewer than 15,000.

Obama’s Justice Department has pursued legal action against states and municipalities that set out to do local enforcement of immigration laws, while declining to take action against those states that ignore immigration laws or prevent federal agents from enforcing them.

The Obama administration has, by its own admission, neglected to enforce federal laws barring the admission of immigrants likely to become a “public charge,” defined as an individual who is “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance, or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.”

House Republicans say border security must be addressed before any other aspects of immigration reform are considered, and the Obama administration’s attitude on border security has been nonchalant at best.

Following a February 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office, the administration was forced to admit that it lacked any official metric by which to assess the security of the Southern border, which ran afoul of legal mandates established in 2006. According to the New York Times, administration officials said “they had resisted producing a single measure to assess the border because the president did not want any hurdles placed on the pathway to eventual citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.”

Most recently, in December 2013, a federal judge in Texas accused the administration of actively abetting the trafficking of illegal immigrants along the border, a practice the judge described as “dangerous and unconscionable.”

Read the full report [PDF].

— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.

Andrew StilesAndrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

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