Obama will take executive action on immigration after summer, adviser says

The move could trigger impeachment proceedings against President Obama, said his senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer. A spokesman for the House speaker called the impeachment comments 'political games.'

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Dan Pfeiffer, Senior Advisor to President Obama speaks at a Monitor breakfast for reporters on Friday, July 25, 2014 in Washington, DC.

President Obama will go ahead with a “very significant” executive action on immigration after the summer – a move that may well trigger impeachment proceedings against him, senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer told reporters at a Monitor breakfast Friday.

“The president acting on immigration reform will certainly up the likelihood that [Republicans] would contemplate impeachment at some point,” said Mr. Pfeiffer, who has been at the Obama White House since its inception.

A lot of people in Washington laughed off Sarah Palin’s call to impeach the president for executive overreach, Pfeiffer said, but “I would not discount that possibility.” Polling shows strong support for the idea among the GOP base, he said, adding that House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio has opened the door to the possibility with his lawsuit against Obama.

Speaker Boehner has flatly denied an interest in impeachment, saying, “I disagree” with those who support it. Next week, the GOP-controlled House is expected to pass a resolution to sue the president for executive overreach on the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”

“This is a fundraising exercise for Democrats,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel in an e-mail response to Pfeiffer’s impeachment comments. “It is telling, and sad, that a senior White House official is focused on political games, rather than helping these kids and securing the border."

In 2012, Obama signed a memo authorizing deferred action on the deportation of certain children of illegal immigrants – the so-called “DREAMers.” Republicans cite it as an example of executive overreach and say it has encouraged the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America. Tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas has urged his colleagues to reject emergency funding for the current border crisis unless the Obama administration rolls back the deferred action.

But while some may have thought the child-migrant crisis might discourage the president from further executive action on immigration, it is having the opposite effect. It has raised awareness of immigration as an issue and increased “the urgency” that the public feels in fixing it, Pfeiffer said. That gives the administration “broad permission” to take action, he said.

Given the “broken Congress,” Pfeiffer said, Obama plans to move ahead with another action after he hears advice from the attorney general and the Homeland Security secretary. His criteria will be that any executive action be on “solid legal footing” and have maximum impact.

Immigrant groups want the president to use his “prosecutorial discretion” to extend temporary protection from deportation to the millions of illegal migrants who would have qualified for a “path to citizenship” under the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform, which has gone nowhere in the House. Politico reports he’s considering subsets of that group, based on criteria such as family ties, how long they have been in the country, and work history.

The White House, Pfeiffer said, is also considering what impact an action could have on the politics of reform going forward.

After the announcement of an action, he said, Republicans will have a choice: “Are they going to go back and try to pass comprehensive immigration reform – [after] which the president will rip up whatever executive action he does the day they pass that? Or are they basically going to set themselves up for the next two and a half years here to be arguing to elect a Republican in order to deport all these people?”

On the child-migrant crisis, Pfeiffer said Obama still supports changing a 2008 child-trafficking law that has become a sticking point in his request to Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funding. That law has had the unintended effect of creating a huge backlog of immigration cases for unaccompanied minors in the courts. Republicans and some Democrats in Congress support changing the law to expedite the cases and deportations, but many Democrats say changing the law would deprive endangered children of their due process.

The administration is talking with members of Congress about a change. But that issue, Pfeiffer said, should not hold up funding.

On a related issue, he neither denied nor confirmed a New York Times account that the White House is considering a plan to accept refugees from Honduras whose applications are processed in that country.

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