Despite midterm disaster, Obama promises immigration action by year's end

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President Obama says his party's resounding defeat in the midterm elections will not thwart his plans to act alone to change immigration policy.

“Before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system," Obama told reporters during a White House press conference on Wednesday.

The president said he will reach out to congressional leaders about reviving an immigration overhaul, but won't hesitate to act on his own.


"What I’m not going to do is just wait," he said.

Some immigrant-rights advocates have expressed concern that a big Republican victory in the midterms would force Obama to retreat from his pledge to act on immigration before the end of the year. But the president says he's committed to his promise to take action.

“I think it’s fair to say that I have shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible, and I will continue to do so,” the president said.

Obama declined to outline what specific actions he will take.

Whatever he does, the GOP leadership in both chambers of Congress have pledged to push back against any unilateral action on immigration.


Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who is poised to become Senate majority leader after winning reelection on Tuesday, said today that a unilateral move on immigration would be like "waving a red flag in front of a bull" to Republicans.


Obama brushed off McConnell's comments.

“I have no doubt there will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated by any executive action that I may take," he said. “Those are folks who are also deeply opposed to immigration reform in any form.”


Groups supporting immigration reform say they're exasperated by all the delays. On Wednesday morning, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters the president needs to act now.

"There's much that can be done to stop the suffering of a lot of people… and protect workers from being abused and taken advantage of because they have to stay in the shadows," he said.


Cristina Jimenez, managing director of the immigrant youth group United We Dream, said Obama's commitment to immigration action is "encouraging," but the details will be critical to how the Hispanic community receives the move.

"We will continue pushing the president to enact a program that is broad, that is inclusive, that includes our families," she said. "There's no reason we should be waiting a lot more on this."


While Democrats suffered a rout in the midterms, voters' sentiments on immigration reform remain mixed. Over half of voters nationwide support offering legal status to undocumented immigrants, according to exit polls.

If Obama doesn't make a sweeping move to provide immigration relief, he could further alienate himself and Democrats from Latino and immigrant voters, according to Kica Matos, director of the Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice program at the Center for Community Change.


"If he doesn't move soon, his legacy is going to be one that is antithetical to human rights," Matos said. "That moniker of 'deporter-in-chief' will forever be stuck on him."

Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.


Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.

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