President Obama celebrated the naturalization of 13 U.S. service members and seven military spouses in South Korea on Friday, congratulating the new American citizens and expressing his pride at joining the ceremony at the National War Memorial in Seoul.
“If there’s anything this should teach us, it is that America is strengthened by our immigrants," he said, repeating his determination to reform the U.S. immigration system. Meanwhile, back in Washington, his administration remains wedged between a congressional Republican-generated rock-and-hard-place on the issue of immigration reform, as it has for nearly a year.
Twenty-two Republican senators signed a letter to the president on Thursday, expressing “grave concerns” about changes to immigration enforcement that the Department of Homeland Security is reportedly considering.
The letter was penned by some of the Senate’s most conservative members, such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, Tom Coburn of Maryland, and David Vitter of Louisiana, among others. In it, they accuse Obama of “incrementally nullifying immigration enforcement” during the time he’s been in office and “allowing preventable crimes harming innocent people to take place every day.” The changes that DHS is reportedly considering, they write, “would represent a near complete abandonment of basic immigration enforcement and discard the rule of law and the notion that the United States has enforceable borders.”
How would Obama bring about this border Armageddon? Let’s back up to last June, when the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that, among other things, aimed to provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States, while simultaneously cracking down on southern border crossings with $30 billion-worth of increased security. Almost a year later, thanks to a stubborn Republican-led House of Representatives, the reform is hardly any closer to becoming law. While Obama has been working to convince House Republicans that he is serious about tightening border security, touting his two million-plus deportation recordin hopes of coaxing a compromise, he’s also been looking for ways to present himself as more compassionate to the immigration advocates who’ve unaffectionately nicknamed him “Deporter-in-Chief.”
It’s a tough line to straddle, since anything Obama does to appease one side is seen as a big middle finger by the other. For their part, immigration reform foes have been accusing the Obama administration of acting outside the law ever since 2011, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were encouraged to use “prosecutorial discretion” in determining who to deport. A series of directives—nicknamed the “Morton Memos” for then-ICE Director John Morton, who issued them—divided undocumented immigrants into categories. According to the Morton Memos, criminals, national-security threats, known gang members—and anyone else who posed a threat to public safety—along with people caught illegally re-entering the country or engaging in immigration fraud, were to be considered a priority for deportation. Veterans and military members, minors, the elderly, pregnant or nursing women, anyone with a mental or physical disability or other type of serious health condition, people who have been living in the U.S. since childhood, and law-abiding residents, were not.
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