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Washington Stirs Anew on Immigration Reform

President Barack Obama makes a statement about immigration reform, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, June 30, 2014.

President Barack Obama makes a statement about immigration reform, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, June 30, 2014.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama reignited America's long-simmering debate on immigration reform, saying he would do what he can through executive orders. Proponents and opponents of a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants have responded, as Washington ponders the political and possible electoral ramifications of the president's announcement.

Monday, the president said his patience with Congress is at an end on immigration reform. “America cannot wait forever for them to act. And that is why today I am beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own,” he said.

The administration is exploring executive orders to address the plight of those who entered the country illegally or overstayed visas, and hopes to quell a crisis along America’s border with Mexico, where tens of thousands of minors have arrived, believing the United States will not deport those who are underage.

Obama’s announcement provoked a mixed reaction from advocates.

Advocates, opponents

Lynn Tramonte, deputy director at America’s Voice, a group that supports comprehensive immigration reform, said the president can make a difference.

“It marked a turning point in the debate. We saw the president speaking truth,” she said.

“He does not have authority to open up a path to citizenship for 11 million people here without papers. That is clear. That is Congress’ job," said Tramonte. "But he does have authority to create a program of deferred action and allow those same people to start the process toward legalization. They will not get a visa; they will not get a green card. But they will get temporary papers.”

Opponents of any adjusted status for the undocumented are appalled, including Marguerite Telford of the Center for Immigration Studies.

“It is astonishing, an incredible disregard for our constitution,” she said.

Telford said House Republicans have not acted on immigration reform for good reason, they view a bill that passed the Senate last year as amnesty for law-breakers, and do not believe promises of enhanced border enforcement will be kept.

“We do not trust the president of the United States. We can pass these things, and he will not enforce them,” she said.

Political factors

Republicans risk alienating the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, immigrants and their American-born offspring, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein.

“I think President Obama’s announcement works well for Democrats," he said. "One of the dilemmas that Republicans will have is that, the more they criticize the president, the more in the eyes of the Hispanic-American population, the Asian-American population and others, they are going to look like they are staunchly against immigration and immigrants.”

Ornstein notes that, even before Obama’s announcement, House Speaker John Boehner was seeking legal avenues to limit the president’s use of executive authority. Ornstein said the president risks little politically by acting on his own, noting, “Congressional Republicans are going to be upset whatever he does.”

The administration's review of executive actions is expected to be completed in coming months.