WASHINGTON — Sen. Patty Murray and her fellow Democratic leaders on Monday urged President Obama to stick to his resolve to act unilaterally on immigration reform, which has incensed conservatives and triggered threats of another government shutdown.
In a letter to Obama, the lawmakers say immigrant communities have waited long enough for House Republicans to take up comprehensive reforms. They urge the president to act as much as possible “within your legal authority” to lift deportation threats to millions of undocumented immigrants.
The letter was signed by Murray, the No. 4 Senate Democratic leader; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; Majority Whip Richard Durbin; Democratic Conference Vice Chair Charles; and Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Last week, Obama revealed he plans to use executive authority to allow people living here illegally but otherwise lawfully to remain in the Unites States, and to obtain permits to work. Conservatives who object to the plan are pressing reluctant Republican leaders in the House and the Senate to force a showdown by holding up a spending bill that is needed to keep the federal government funded beyond Dec. 11.
The Democrats’ letter seemed designed to stiffen Obama’s political spine. They contend halting deportations — at least during the remainder of Obama’s presidency — would help the economy and boost payroll taxes by billions of dollars. It also would keep families intact in cases in which most family members are already citizens and bring illegal workers out of the underground economy.
“Some Republicans are claiming that you do not have the authority to act, but we know that you, like previous presidents, have broad executive authority to shape the enforcement and implementation of immigration laws. This authority includes exercising prosecutorial discretion to refine deportation priorities, deferring deportations on a case-by-case basis, and streamlining the legal immigration system,” they wrote.
The Senate last year passed a comprehensive immigration bill by a 68-32 vote, including support from 14 Republicans. But the Republican-controlled House has not moved the legislation. Obama has previously said he would take executive action if Republicans failed to act — a threat he appears ready to carry out before Republicans take majority control of the Senate in January.