President Barack Obama suggested Thursday he would broaden his informal amnesty for illegal immigrants, likely in an effort to boost sagging support among Latinos prior to the November election.
The move is also likely to effectively kill the high-profile campaign by progressives, ethnic and business groups to win a congressional amnesty for roughly 12 million illegal immigrants, and to double the annual inflow of immigrants and guest-workers.
In a White House meeting with leaders of the Hispanic bloc in Congress, “the President emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system,” according to the White House’s “readout” of the meeting.
Obama “told the members that he has asked Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to do an inventory of the Department’s current practices to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law.”
Hispanic groups have pushed for a complete halt to deportations of illegal immigrants under the slogan “Not One More.” Enforcement, say the advocates, splits families.
“It is clear that the pleas from the community got through to the President,” said a late-Thursday statement from Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Latino politician elected in Illinois. “The President clearly expressed the heartbreak he feels because of the devastating effect that deportations have on families,” Gutierrez said.
Obama is unlikely to end all deportations, but may choose to issue regulations that effectively end enforcement against some groups of illegals, such those who have U.S. citizen. In 2012, he used a campaign-style speech in the Rose Garden to announce he would stop his deputies from enforcing immigration law against most younger illegal immigrants.
Only Congress can actually change the law, which denies residency to foreigners unless they go through the legal immigration system. That system offers permanent or temporary residency to roughly 1 million immigrants and 650,000 non-agriculture guest-workers per year. Roughly 4 million Americans turn 18 each year.
So far, the business-friendly Republican leadership has blocked Obama’s push for a legal amnesty, partly because polls show that amnesty, guest workers and increased immigration are unpopular among the GOP base and lower-income voters. They’re popular, however, among progressives and wealthy people.
The unpopularity has caused problems for pro-immigration Republican politicians such as Arizona’s Sen John McCain, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers.
Between 2007 and late 2012, a loose alliance of 678 business, ethnic and progressive groups spent almost $1.5 billion on 3,136 lobbyists trying to persuade Congress to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws, according to a March 2013 report from the Sunlight Foundation.
That spending accelerated in 2013, and helped persuade the Democratic-run Senate to pass a bill that offered 40 million green cards or work permits to immigrants or guest-workers during the next decade, when 40 million Americans will turn 18.
In recent months, the GOP leaders have said they can’t pass immigration bills until they’re reassured by Obama that he will enforce the sections of laws that he does not like. Obama’s public support for an enforcement rollback will make it difficult for GOP leaders to claim they can fully trust Obama to enforce any new immigration law.