Behind the scenes: How Obama's immigration action came to be

  • Nov 20, 2014
  • Source: Politico
  • by: Carrie Budoff Brown, Seung Min Kim and Anna Palmer
Nine months ago, the new Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, received a request from the White House. President Obama wanted him to personally take on perhaps the administration’s toughest political assignment: looking for creative ways to fix America’s immigration system without congressional action—or executive overreach.

Just days earlier Obama had been labeled the “deporter in chief” by a top Hispanic leader and ally, furious over the inaction by a president who seemed trapped between the demands of his supporters to allow millions of long-time residents who lacked documentation to stay in the country, and the seemingly endless foot-dragging of Republicans.

That request to Johnson would prove critical: a moment when the president set on the path of a much more ambitious change than the narrow changes in civil enforcement policy he and his aides had initially explored. In the remaining months of 2014, Obama would come to support a sweeping executive action to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country, as Congress lurched from willingness to consider changes to strained immigration laws to refusing to tackle the issue at all. Meanwhile, interest groups from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to the Business Roundtable, from K Street’s shrewdest lobbyists to the most hard-nosed union bosses, intervened to try to shape the direction of the order.

At several key points, Obama wavered under pressure from members of his own party, worried about an electoral collapse that happened anyway when the votes were counted in the midterm elections earlier this month. Throughout, Johnson worked, largely in secret on the grand plan that finally became public this week, convening a small group of former Capitol Hill aides with expertise on immigration to work with Homeland Security officials to draft a policy that all expected would provoke not only fierce opposition from conservatives but from liberals who thought Obama should go further. It was a consuming task: in all, sources said, the immigration issue ate up fully half of the Homeland Security secretary’s time in recent months, with Johnson —a high-powered corporate attorney in his previous life — writing the final presidential memorandum himself.
 Source: Politico
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