Obama Promises Executive Action on Immigration, Despite Midterm Losses

November 5, 2014

Votes are still being counted, but the overall picture of the 2014 midterms is clear: Republicans won control of the Senate, extended their lead in the House of Representatives, and even won a number of Governors races they were expected to lose.

This was always going to be a rough election for Democrats, who struggle to turn out their voters in midterm elections, and who were defending a number of vulnerable seats that were won in the wave election of 2008. However, the scale of this loss goes well beyond what the map would have predicted. Losses in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Colorado (plus unexpectedly close calls in Virginia, Vermont, and New Hampshire) cannot be blamed on the peculiarities of this particular cycle. Republicans were expected to win, but they won by more than was expected, and they won all over the country. 

In this context, it is hard to know what will become of Obama’s long-promised executive action on immigration reform. He had wanted to pursue various immigration fixes – including providing work authorization for some H-4 visa holders, expanding the Deferred Action program, and taking steps to free up immigrant visas – prior to the midterms. However, nervous Democrats talked him out of it, fearing a backlash that would sink them at the polls. Given last night’s results, this seems like a mistake. Democrats still lost among the groups hostile to immigration reform, but they also saw many Republicans dramatically outperform expectations with Hispanic voters

The administration has been promising that executive action would be coming shortly after the election – regardless of the outcome. But with the size and scope of the victory, it may prove harder than expected to take the bold steps reform activists seek. There are already whispers that Republicans may seek to impeach Obama over any executive action he takes, but even if that does not come to pass, last night made it very difficult to justify to a divided America why executive action is necessary. If they are smart, Republicans will promise to pass “sensible immigration reform” early in 2015, which would make executive action look all the more imperious. And with America voting definitively in favor of a Republican congress, Obama’s claim that Republicans are obstructing the will of the American people on the matter of immigration no longer has the ring of truth. 

Nevertheless, it’s a near certainty that executive action is coming. The pressure to act is too great (and too many promises have been made) to back out now. But the precise nature of the changes remains unclear, and people hoping for bold action will not be cheered by last night’s elections. 

**UPDATE** 11/5/2014, 4:45 PM EST

President Obama has confirmed his plans to move forward with executive action on immigration reform by the end of the year. From the Huffington Post:

“Before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take,” Obama told reporters at the White House, although he declined to offer specifics on what an executive order might look like. The president said he plans to reach out to Republican leaders in both chambers to gauge their agenda, but added that he is done waiting for lawmakers on Capitol Hill to take action. “I think it’s fair to say that I’ve shown a lot of patience and tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible and will keep doing so,” Obama said. “I’ve consistently said that it is my profound preference and interest to see Congress act on a comprehensive immigration reform bill.”

“What we can’t do is just keep on waiting,” he added. “There’s a cost for waiting.”



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