The new phase of immigration politics came into focus Thursday when 22 Republican senators accused President Barack Obama of shirking his duties and provoking a constitutional crisis by weighing more lenient deportation policies for low-priority individuals in the country illegally.
“Your actions demonstrate an astonishing disregard for the Constitution, the rule of law, and the rights of American citizens and legal residents,” the senators, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, wrote in a letter to the president. “Our entire constitutional system is threatened when the Executive Branch suspends the law at its whim and our nation’s sovereignty is imperiled when the commander-in-chief refuses to defend the integrity of its borders.”
The co-signatories were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and Sens. David Vitter (LA), Tom Coburn (OK), John Boozman (AR), Pat Roberts (KS), Ted Cruz (TX), Mike Crapo (ID), Thad Cochran (MS), James Risch (ID), Mike Johanns (NE), Saxby Chambliss (GA), John Hoeven (ND), Deb Fischer (NE), Richard Shelby (AL), James Inhofe (OK), Roy Blunt (MO), Tim Scott (SC), Johnny Isakson (GA), Mike Lee (TX), Jeff Sessions (AL) and Orrin Hatch (UT).
The senators said the changes the administration is reportedly considering would amount to a “near complete abandonment of basic immigration enforcement,” insinuating that Obama was tying the hands of immigration officers. Notably, the signatories include two supporters of the immigration overhaul that passed the Senate last June, which the Republican-led House has rejected: Hoeven and Hatch.
“You swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” the senators wrote. “We ask you to uphold that oath and to carry out the duties required by the Constitution and entrusted to you by the American people.”
The Obama administration hasn’t announced any changes to policy yet. But in March, under pressure from Hispanics and pro-reform activists, Obama ordered Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to see how the department “can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law,” according to the White House. The subtext is he’s considering easing up deportations on unauthorized immigration who haven’t committed crimes.
The president has repeatedly said legislative action is the only way to truly fix the problems posed by 11 million people living in the country illegally. His consideration of executive action came after House GOP leaders made all but clear they won’t act on immigration reform in 2014, and amid howls of outrage from Hispanic leaders over Obama’s deportation record, one of whom called the president the “deporter-in-chief.”
Grassley is the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. He’s next in line to be its chairman if Republicans win control of the Senate.
Read the letter below: