By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Now that comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. House of Representatives is a long-shot, activists are turning their eyes to the White House in the hopes that President Obama will give relief to undocumented immigrants through executive orders.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, has been talking about this option as of late. According to The Tampa Bay Times, Rubio told Tallahassee radio host Preston Scott yesterday “that if Congress doesn’t act on immigration reform, then President Obama could [be] ‘tempted’ to legalize 11 million people through executive action.”
The Times also reports that right now the idea is just being touted, but the President has made no promise that this is even a real option. Other activists are hoping this option doesn’t derail pressure on Congress to pass comprehensive reform.
The head of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network said the so-called Plan B should be put into action. “Senator Rubio’s bizarre comments demonstrate precisely why the President must lead on this issue by suspending deportations and expanding DACA,” said Executive Director Pablo Alvarado. “He should take action now to prevent Congress from holding people’s equality hostage. Rather than think about executive action as a ‘plan B,’ we think Presidential action will actually improve prospects for a good bill to get through Congress.”
We asked the White House if Obama was contemplating action. “No,” said spokeswoman Joanna Rosholm “The only solution to this problem is for Congress to fix the broken immigration system by passing comprehensive reform.”
Just having this option out there, however, could have political benefits for Rubio, whose involvement in immigration has had varying ramifications for him.
Rubio was part of a bipartisan coalition in the U.S. Senate that successfully drafted and helped pass a comprehensive immigration bill giving a path to citizenship to undocumented people and beefs up spending on border security. The success of that bill won him allies among Latino groups, as well as some Democrats.
However, the more conservative U.S. House stopped the momentum for immigration reform. House Speaker John Boehner has said the House will either come up with it’s own comprehensive bill, or members will consider individual bills related to immigration. Many of the conservative members of the House have also said they will not support a bill that gives citizenship to undocumented people.
This ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party, which is against immigration reform, presents a lot of problems for Rubio. First, Rubio was elected as a Tea-Party darling and votes with the more conservative members of the Senate on most issues . But his involvement in immigration reform has won him enemies among his friends and has ignited some tough criticism on conservative cable TV shows.
POLITICO reports Rubio talking about this ‘Plan B’ might either take the sting out of his involvement in immigration or it will “reignite momentum” for reform.
Marco Rubio’s back in the ring on immigration reform and he’s got a new move: Congress needs to fix the problem — or Barack Obama will.
The line is meant to touch a nerve with conservatives who might dislike the idea of immigration reform, but loathe the idea of Obama taking on any major issue on his own — let alone immigration.
… The fierce House “no” caucus argues its base doesn’t want immigration reform and passing it would just hand Obama a gift — and the Democratic Party millions of new voters.
But if Rubio has a shot at building the urgency needed to convert enough Republicans to pass a comprehensive bill, the end of the August recess could be his best bet, since it’s a time when the news cycle is slow and lawmakers can be pressured before heading back to Washington in September.
Although, President Obama is trying to keep the focus and responsibility of immigration reform on Congress, he has used executive orders and new agency rules to change immigration laws in the past.
National Journal reported last week that immigration activists are looking for a “Plan B” if Congress does not pass a bill this year that will grant a legal status to much of the country’s undocumented population.
The idea behind the “other track” is to freeze the current undocumented population in place through an administrative order, give them work permits, and hope for a better deal under the next president, with the hope that he or she is a Democrat. It’s a significant gamble, but some advocates—particularly those outside of the Washington legislative bartering system—argue that it’s better than what they stand to see under the legislation being discussed now.
Many advocates have been discussing Plan B quietly for months, but they have kept a disciplined public message solely focused on supporting a comprehensive immigration bill in Congress. Even if they are uncomfortable with some of the bill’s provisions (like, say, excluding anyone who has been convicted of petty theft from legalization), advocates don’t want to appear fractured before a group of politicians who are wary about voting for anything that gives unauthorized immigrants legal status. As soon as reluctant lawmakers smell dissension in the ranks, they flee.
In 2012, Obama endorsed a rule change that allows undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to be shielded from deportation. Another Obama administration rule change earlier this year created an easier path to permanent residency for undocumented immigrants who are immediate relatives of American citizens. The rule, which was issued by the Department of Homeland Security, was meant to reduce the time undocumented immigrants are separated from their families in the U.S. while they seek a legal status.