President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress appear to be headed toward another major clash on the controversial issue of reforming the country’s immigration laws. Republican leaders in Congress say they are considering what course of action to take if the president announces an executive order that could shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Speaking at a news conference Friday in Myanmar, the president struck a defiant tone when asked about multiple U.S. media reports he may be planning to take sweeping executive action on immigration reform as early as next week.
“And I indicated to Speaker Boehner several months ago that, if in fact, Congress failed to act I would use all the lawful authority that I possess to try to make the system work better. And that is going to happen. That is going to happen before the end of the year,” said Obama.
Awaiting House action
The president said he has given the Republican-led House of Representatives and House Speaker John Boehner more than one year to take action. The Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation in June 2013, but the House has not taken up the issue.
Boehner and other Republican lawmakers say the president would be going beyond his constitutional authority if he uses executive action to radically shift the focus of immigration authorities to grant what they call “amnesty” to millions of undocumented immigrants. Media reports cite administration officials, saying the plan could shield from deportation up to 5 million undocumented people who are the parents of U.S. citizen children or legal residents.
"We are going to fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down this path. This is the wrong way to govern," said Boehner at a news conference Thursday.
Congress has to approve a spending bill by December 11 to keep the U.S. government running. Boehner refused to say whether he would link the spending bill to the immigration issue, although he did say it is not Republicans’ goal to trigger another partial government shutdown like the one in 2013.
"All options are on the table,” said Boehner.
Some analysts say the White House likely has not yet decided whether to announce an executive order on immigration shortly or wait to act until after Congress has passed a spending bill next month.
Republicans on the Senate side also are vowing to take action to prevent the president from taking broad unilateral action. Republicans won control of the chamber in November elections, meaning the president will face even stronger Republican opposition in Congress starting in January.
Meanwhile, the White House announced a plan to grant refugee status in the U.S. to certain children living in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Vice President Joe Biden announced the new program Friday at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington.
He said it gives those seeking asylum "a right way" to come to the U.S., instead of making the dangerous trek north through Mexico and crossing the border illegally.
Under the plan, those 21 years old and younger with at least one parent who is a legal resident of the U.S. can qualify.
Immigration and the best way to reform the system became a major issue in the United States this year when thousands of children from Central America, with no hope for a better life at home, illegally entered the U.S. to escape gang violence and poverty.
Immigrant rights advocates say they should be allowed to stay, while opponents say that would be unfair to the millions of immigrants who waited their turn and came to the country legally.