White House

Obama: concern about mid-term elections not behind delay in immigration actions

Demonstrators protesting at Freedom Plaza in Washington asking President Barack Obama to modify his deportations policies, Aug. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Demonstrators protesting at Freedom Plaza in Washington asking President Barack Obama to modify his deportations policies, Aug. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File) AP

President Barack Obama said Sunday that he did not postpone his highly anticipated executive actions on immigration because of November’s congressional elections, but because he wanted to build support from the American people for his plan.

“It’s going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration,” Obama said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I want to spend some time, even as we're getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, . . . to make sure that the public understands why we're doing this, why it's the right thing for the American people, why it’s the right thing for the American economy.”

The White House announced Saturday that Obama, who’d promised in late June to act on an immigration fix before the end of the summer, had delayed his plans until after the midterm elections.

The decision was criticized by immigration advocates, who accused Obama of breaking a promise, and Republicans on Capitol Hill, who accused him of playing politics. After Congress failed to pass a rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws, many had expected Obama to grant temporary legal status to help some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants stay and work in the U.S.

But Obama faced pressure from Senate Democrats to push off action after his promise of unilateral action appeared to energize Republicans and threatened a backlash against his own party. Democrats are in danger of losing their majority in the Senate.

“President Obama, Senate Democrats and House Republicans have all succumbed to their political fears, avoiding what they all privately acknowledge is the right thing to do, not just for the Hispanic community, but for the country they are sworn to serve,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, which calls itself the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.

In the “Meet the Press” interview, which was taped Saturday and aired Sunday, the president flatly denied that the postponement was a political tactic intended to help embattled Democrats. Instead, he said repeatedly that the dynamics had changed over the summer after the number of children illegally crossing the southern border alone dropped.

“We’ve actually systematically worked through the problem, so that the surge in June dropped in July, dropped further in August. It's now below what it was last year,” Obama said. “But that's not the impression on people's minds. And what I want to do is, when I take executive action, I want to make sure that it's sustainable.”

Administration officials say the number of unaccompanied children traveling from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, most through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, slowed this summer likely because of many factors, including the weather, a media campaign in Central America urging parents not to send their children to the United States and the arrest of some smugglers bringing children over the border.

The decline in the number of minors crossing the border prompted the administration in August to abandon its months-long search for emergency shelters and to remove children from three facilities at military bases in Texas, California and Oklahoma that were set up to house them.

On Saturday, White House officials were careful not to rule out executive action but said it would not happen before the November elections. “The president is confident in his authority to act, and he will before the end of the year,” one senior official said. The official spoke on the condition that he not be identified.