President Barack Obama could announce executive action on immigration, including a possible amnesty-like distribution of work permits to several million illegal immigrants, by early September, White House spokesman Josh Earnest suggested Monday.
“Even if the president does take some executive action prior to Congress’ return, the president would be happy to have those executive actions superseded by passing the commonsense Senate immigration reform bill that passed more than a year ago,” Earnest said during the daily press conference.
The House returns from its August recess on Sept. 8. That schedule is considerably closer that the administration’s other prediction of action by “the end of summer.”
Earnest is likely trying to shape public opinion before any executive action is announced. If public opinion doesn’t become less hostile, and especially if Senate Democrats plead for a delay until after the election, the White House might delay action, or minimize the scope of the executive order.
Any effort by the president to grant work permits to millions of illegal immigrants is likely to be controversial among voters, partly because it would clash with an long-established law barring foreigners, such as tourists and illegal immigrants, from working in the United States.
It would also arrive at a time when the public is growing more concerned and more skeptical about illegal and legal immigration — and has an easy opportunity to show what it wants during the November election.
On Aug. 1, all but 11 members of the GOP caucus in the House voted to bar the president from creating an executive amnesty. That vote will likely be blocked by Senate Democrats, but it allows the GOP to portray the Democrats as pro-foreigner, and anti-American.
“For the president, to issue five or six million work permits to people who will be fighting unskilled Americans for jobs, is really cruel,” Rep. Michele Bachmann told The Daily Caller. “It is a cruel thing to do to the African-American vote, the Latino vote, and I think that’s why we are here to stand up for for people, for American jobs, and for their wages.”
Public approval of Obama’s immigration policies has slipped from 22 percent in May, to 18 percent in July, as a large wave of at least 100,000 low-skill Central American migrants were welcomed into the country by Obama’s border agencies. Those numbers come from a late July poll of 1,044 Americans by The Associated Press and GfK Public Affairs. Public disapproval climbed from 43 percent to 57 percent, marking a 18-point shift away from Obama since May, said the poll.
Sixty-seven percent of respondents said illegal immigration is an “extremely or very serious problem,” while only 10 percent said it is not serious. The issue of immigration — both illegal and illegal — is now rated as extremely or very important by 62 percent of respondents, up from 52 percent in March. Other polls also show growing public concern and opposition.
Those numbers suggest that Democratic candidates in GOP-leaning states — including several Democratic senators — could be targeted by GOP rivals on immigration issues, especially if Obama hands out work permits to millions of illegal immigrants.
In 2012, Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which boosted his support among Latinos. But there are relatively few Latinos in states with Senate elections this year.
Obama’s risk are also boosted by public opposition to an overreaching White House.
A mid-July CNN poll shows that 45 percent of Americans believe that Obama’s has already gone too far in pushing executive actions, and 22 percent say he has not gone far enough.
Thirty percent of Americans says he’s struck the right balance.
But a large slice of the 30 percent may decide that Obama has gone too far if he awards work permits to illegal immigrants, especially because many Americans are worried about jobs and wages in a long-stalled economy.
During the press conference, Earnest twice mentioned the possibility of action by early September, even as he also said repeatedly that “the timing is fluid.”
“Any steps the president would take would not be as far reaching as that [June 2013 Senate] bill, and if congressional Republicans come back from their recess, even come to their senses … [and] allow the bill to come up for a vote, the president would be happy to sign that bill into law and allow it to superseded any of the executive actions that he takes,” Earnest said.