Immigration bill stalled by GOP distrust of Obama, says Chertoff

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The push to rewrite the country’s immigration laws is being crippled by GOP distrust of the White House, says Michael Chertoff, who served as President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Homeland Security.

“I’m going to be honest — there’s one issue that is a big obstacle, and that is trust,” Chertoff told a meeting of North Carolina activists and employers organized by a pro-immigration advocacy group.

“We need… to restore a measure of trust so that people believe that if a law is passed, it will be actually executed as written,” said Cherthoff, who ran DHS from 2005 to 2009, and who helped spearhead Bush’s two failed attempts at overhauling the immigration system.

The Democratic-led Senate has passed an controversial immigration rewrite. The GOP-led House has developed a series of rival bills, but the GOP leadership has not announced plans to pass a bill.

Polls shows that few Americans support an increased inflow of foreign workers, although many are willing to back an amnesty in exchange for a real end to illegal immigration.

Anti-immigration advocates from all sides of the political spectrum fear that GOP leaders may try to push a business-backed rewrite through in October that would worsen Americans’ wages and employment opportunities.

Chertoff explained the GOP’s distrust by pointing to Obama’s controversial June 2012 Rose Garden announcement that granted “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” to more than 1 million illegal immigrants.

His announcement halted enforcement of longstanding immigration law against many younger illegal immigrants, and likely boosted Hispanic support and turnout for Obama in November 2012.

“For people who are skeptical and untrusting, that vindicated their distrust,” Chertoff said.

Lots of people distrust the government, he told the North Carolina meeting. On immigration, people are concerned that the White House will not enforce the parts of a compromise deal that it does not like, especially on border enforcement, he said.

They fear “there will be a decision made not to enforce part of the bargain… [such as] the results with respect to the border,” said Chertoff, who now runs The Chertoff Group, a risk-analysis and crisis management firm.

Chertoff spoke at an event organized by an pro-immigration advocacy group, the National Immigration Forum.

In August, Obama’s deputies expanded the DACA rule by exempting illegals who play some role in childrearing from deportation. The scale of that exemption has not been revealed.

In 2010 and 2011, Obama’s deputies also rolled back enforcement, partly by reducing searches for illegal immigrants in workplaces and at transportation hubs.

Chertoff also urged supporters of amnesty to not press Obama for a halt to deportment of illegals.

That’s a growing demand among progressives and ethnic lobbyists, who fear that elected legislators won’t pass an amnesty bill.

“I think that’s big mistake, and I’ll tell you why,” Chertoff said.

“As tempting as it might be if Congress doesn’t act, to have the president unilaterally grant what is in effect amnesties… it would really damage the ability to pass the [immigration rewrite] law,” he said.

Also, he added, a regulatory amnesty wouldn’t provide foreigners with the right to work, ensuring employers would be legally exposed to penalties if they hired those workers.

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