White House mulls steps on immigration it can take on its own

Story highlights

  • Obama wants options for dealing with problems on his own
  • Congress has yet to pass comprehensive immigration reform
  • Senate approved a bill last year, but House says it won't take it up
  • Conservatives believe the Senate plan would offer amnesty to undocumented immigrants

As Congress wrestles with legislation aimed at easing the southern border crisis, the White House is considering steps President Barack Obama can take on his own to address an immigration system widely viewed as broken and in need of reform.

One potential option for executive action includes expanding a program allowing those brought to the United States illegally as children to stay without fear of deportation, if they meet certain criteria, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.

Other possible steps include granting some kind of legal status to the parents of U.S. citizens as well as allowing certain undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary work permits, the sources said.

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"There are so many ways they could cut this pie and define and protect a class" of undocumented immigrants, one source said. "I think only now are they really trying to get into the details of what's possible from a legal perspective, a policy perspective and also what's possible from a political perspective."

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More pressing, however, is how to respond to the current border troubles. Tens of thousands of migrant youth from Central America have streamed across the southern border this year, overwhelming related services and creating what most agree is a humanitarian crisis.

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In the House, Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Tuesday that he believed "there is sufficient support" for the a $659 million measure aimed at bringing conservatives on board to pass a funding bill to address the matter.

The new GOP plan is smaller than a roughly $1 billion package discussed last week, and significantly less than the $3.7 billion request sought by Obama.

Congress is set to leave town at the end of the week for its August recess and some House Republicans are concerned about potential political fallout if they leave Washington without addressing the issue. But a group of conservatives remain dug in over cost.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acknowledged Tuesday that Democrats could use the GOP border bill as a vehicle to add the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform legislation from last summer, which would negate any need for Obama to act on immigration more broadly.

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But House and Senate GOP aides argued it would be almost impossible procedurally to marry the two bills. Boehner has made it clear the House will not take up the Senate measure.

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Due to congressional inaction on immigration reform in general, Obama had asked Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Secretary Security Jeh Johnson to look at steps he could take to "fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own."

In March, the administration announced Johnson would conduct a thorough review of the deportation process to find a more commonsense, humane approach to the practice.

That review is now part of the discussions on what executive action the President may take.

White House officials have indicated those actions could be significant and sweeping.

"The only question is what's the political blowback going to be?" said a one source.

Immigrants or refugees? A difference with political consequences