WASHINGTON – With immigration legislation stalled in Congress, advocates are intensifying pressure on the Obama administration to act unilaterally to stop deportations or grant legal status to some of the 11 million people now living in the U.S. illegally.
Activists are stepping up acts of civil disobedience like one last month in Phoenix, where they blocked a bus full of immigrant detainees. And labor leaders plan to press the issue with a top White House official in an upcoming meeting.
“If Congress doesn’t move, the president has a duty to act,” said Ana Avendano, director of immigration and community action at the AFL-CIO. “Just because the Republicans have buried their heads in the sand doesn’t mean that immigrant communities aren’t feeling the sting of constant deportations.”
The possibility of executive action is inflaming Republican suspicions. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and others warn that President Barack Obama will be tempted to act on his own to legalize some or all of the people now living in the country illegally.
“I think that’s actually what Obama wants to do. I think he wants Congress not to pass something so he can do it on his own and he can take credit for it,” Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said in an interview. “He needs to be very careful, though, because he continues to flout the law, and he continues to do things that are beyond his authority. And at some point, Congress is going to have enough.”
The administration acted on its own a year ago to change policy and suspend deportations of some immigrants brought illegally into the country as children. More than 450,000 of them have benefited so far.
White House officials refuse to publicly entertain any discussion of taking further steps. “The only way to bring 11 million undocumented individuals out of the shadow economy is for Congress to pass common-sense reform with an earned path to citizenship. That’s it. Full stop,” said White House spokesman Bobby Whithorne.