The wave of children showing up on the U.S. southern border has caught President Barack Obama between his allies who want him to do more on immigration and critics who blame him for causing the sudden surge.
With little prospect of getting legislation through Congress before the November elections, Democratic lawmakers and activists are turning their fire on Obama, pressuring him to halt deportations for the almost 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the country who would benefit under a stalled Senate bill.
"Republicans in the House simply have no answer when it comes to immigration reform," Illinois Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez, one of the most vocal immigration advocates on Capitol Hill, said in a floor speech this week. "It is now time for the president to act."
Vice President Joe Biden told immigration advocates, agriculture industry representatives, law enforcement leaders and religious groups during a private meeting yesterday that the arrival of children at the border has made the immigration debate more difficult, according to three people who attended.
"The vice president was clear that he wants to make sure the response to it doesn’t also hurt the progress in Congress," said Kristy Boswell, director of congressional relations for the Farm Bureau, which represents farmers and ranchers.
On the other side are House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner, who said the chamber will sue the Obama administration because of the president’s use of executive actions to circumvent Congress, including steps he’s already taken on immigration.
The fight comes just a few months before the midterm congressional elections, in which Obama is seeking to help Democrats hold their majority in the Senate. Hispanic voters were crucial to Obama’s re-election win and could be a major factor again in November.
"There’s a lot of pressure on the president," said Frank Sharry, of the pro-immigrant group America’s Voice. "And I think there’ll be a strong up-tick on that pressure" once it’s clear to all that the Republican-controlled House won’t act.
The more than 52,000 unaccompanied children who’ve arrived at the border so far this year -- already double the total from fiscal 2013 -- is further complicating the administration’s political calculations.