President Obama reassured members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Wednesday that he will flex his executive muscle later this year to be “as great and big and bold as he can be” to reduce deportations of undocumented immigrant families who have lived and worked in the United States for years, one Democratic lawmaker said at the conclusion of the meeting.
Obama tasked White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to meet this week with caucus members to continue examining powers the president can use to keep undocumented families together, Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois told reporters.
Meanwhile, members of the caucus are willing to give the administration expedited authority to deport a surge of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the United States, as long as any statutory changes preserve judicial due process on a case-by-case basis, Gutierrez told RCP.
Obama has asked Congress to approve $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address the immigration influx at the southwestern border, primarily from Central American countries, and he wants DHS to gain expedited authority to return most of the asylum-seekers to their home countries more quickly. The president also conceded recently that House Republicans will not vote on comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year, and he told his advisers to send him executive options by the end of the summer that might make some strides, even without Congress.
The border crisis and the death of immigration reform collided this summer, presenting the president with dual challenges: send border-crossers back home, and keep millions of undocumented immigrant families intact.
At Wednesday’s meeting, participants said the administration pointed to statistics that suggest the recent surge at the border could already be ebbing, even without legislative changes, as Central American families learn from word of mouth and the media that the United States plans to speed the expulsion of most asylum seekers, rather than offer safe harbor almost indefinitely because of backlogs in the system.
Gutierrez said House Democrats want to preserve due process for unaccompanied minors who have crossed the border, even as Hispanic Caucus members encourage Obama not to deport undocumented families who have lived in the country for years.
“We will not vote for a supplemental [spending bill] that undercuts existing law that protects the children,” he said of proposed changes to a statute aimed at curbing sex trafficking and adopted in 2008. The law offered asylum-seekers from countries not contiguous with the United States judicial reviews that can last longer than the scrutiny afforded border-crossers from Mexico and Canada. Last week, senior White House officials said Obama wanted discretion to expedite the review process and eliminate the different treatment pegged to countries of origin.
“We do want the children to get expedited, and we gave [Obama] many suggestions within the confines of the law so that those children can get inside a courtroom,” Gutierrez said. “They’re going to be deported. The vast majority do not have an asylum case. We know that. Let’s just be clear,” he added.
“I don’t want any more of them coming to this fate. They are in the process of removal as we speak. They will lose their asylum cases,” he told RCP.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama is not worried about criticism voiced by some congressional Democrats. Yet, evidence suggests White House officials have worked assertively to quiet Democrats who have disagreed with the administration’s approach to border problems. Earnest said Obama wanted to meet with the Hispanic Caucus to discuss their ideas about the president’s use of executive authority, but it was clear that Obama also lobbied Hispanic lawmakers for support for his nearly $4 billion funding measure, which Earnest called “a priority.”
Gutierrez, who has tangled with Obama over administration immigration policies in the past, spoke glowingly — in English and in Spanish — about the president Wednesday.
“I’ve been in there with the president before. Let me tell you, he can be pretty brutal when you raise issues and criticisms of his administration,” the Illinois congressman, a member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, told RCP.
“He was not judgmental and not defensive at all,” he said. “I saw our champion.”