WASHINGTON - In coming weeks, President Barack Obama is expected to take executive action to address the plight of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States — provoking cheers from immigrant rights groups and condemnation from those who see it as amnesty for law-breakers.
Congress has not passed comprehensive immigration reform or approved funds to deal with a surge of child migrants at America’s southern border.
Immigrant activists have demonstrated outside the White House and engaged in civil disobedience demanding an end to deportations of the undocumented.
Yaritza is a U.S. citizen who fears for her Mexican-born mother living illegally in the United States, and has a message for the president.
“Stop separating families. If he can somehow keep children and their families together, that would be the best,” she said.
Obama has already promised to act.
“I am beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress," he said. "If Congress will not do its job, at least we can do ours.”
Such a move will be fiercely opposed by Republicans like Senator Jeff Sessions who says that “Congress passes law. The president must execute the law. The president is not entitled to make law, to conduct actions contrary to plain law.”
Complicating the picture is the arrival of tens of thousands of underage Central Americans entitled to immigration hearings under current U.S. law. The influx has overwhelmed federal facilities and alarmed officials in some states where the children have been placed.
“Since the health status of these children is unknown, do they pose a risk to other children in North Carolina? If the numbers increase at this rate, it could have a severe impact on the current resources we have available to take care of North Carolina children,” said North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory.
But Congress adjourned for a five-week recess without boosting federal funds to house and process child migrants - or reforming U.S. immigration law.
Partisan finger-pointing dominates the immigration debate. Republican Senator John Cornyn blames the White House.
"The president has effectively encouraged children and their parents to make this treacherous, life-threatening journey by suggesting he will not enforce the law," he said.
Democrats decry the Republican-led House's refusal to vote on a comprehensive reform bill that passed the Senate last year.
"The Republican leadership is so afriad they might actually have to take a position on immigration - they might have to vote yes or no. It is so much easier not to do anything and say, 'Oh, it must be President Obama's fault,'" said Senator Patrick Leahy.
In such a climate, Obama has little to lose by taking matters into his own hands, according to Thomas Mann, political analyst at the Brookings Institution.
"The politics are very straightforward: nothing President Obama does would assuage the Republican opposition," he said. "If he does this, he will do it because he believes it is the right thing to do now."
An estimated 11-to-12 million foreigners are living illegally in the United States.