The Obameter

Provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants

Will support "a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens."


Path to citizenship promise under Obama looks dead

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 over a Texas case related to President Barack Obama's efforts to help millions of illegal immigrants temporarily avoid deportation. That ruling and other events are stopping Obama from keeping his campaign promise on a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Obama's programs were intended to help certain people who came here as children and their parents. While it would not have provided a permanent lawful status to applicants, it would have made it easier for them to work and study here.

The decision was another blow to Obama's efforts to change immigration laws and promise to provide a path to citizenship.

We rated Obama's 2008 pledge as In the Works after the Senate unveiled an immigration bill in 2013 that included several hurdles for undocumented immigrants, including fines, background checks and a waiting period, before they could be on a path to citizenship. But the bill stalled in the House when leadership refused to bring it up for a vote.

After Congress refused to take up the bill, Obama acted on his own. In November 2014 he announced his administration's plan to delay deportation of unauthorized immigrants and their parents, through programs known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).  But on June 23, the Supreme Court deadlocked.

Speaking from the White House about the decision, Obama blamed the tie vote on the Republicans for refusing to give a hearing to Judge Merrick Garland, the federal judge Obama had recommended to fill the vacancy in March following the death of Antonin Scalia.

Obama announced that the federal government would continue its enforcement policies, which prioritize deporting criminals.

"As long as you have not committed a crime, our limited immigration enforcement resources are not focused on you," he said.

David Leopold, past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, has met with White House officials about immigration policies. He told PolitiFact that Obama is out of options.

DACA and DAPA were intended as a temporary reprieve for immigrants here illegally, with the hopes that Congress would ultimately agree on a path to citizenship. But that never happened.

"Congress in 2013 told him not they would not play ball," Leopold said. "That hasn't changed. The president can't put a path to citizenship through without a bill."

However, the federal government provides funding to only deport a certain number of people -- about 400,000 a year, Leopold said. That means that Obama's enforcement priorities remain in place: Undocumented people who have been here a long time and aren't criminals or posing a security threat are not facing immediate removal.

A path to citizenship is something that could be revisited by a future president and Congress, but it will not happen while Obama is in the White House. We rate this Promise Broken.


White House, "Live Updates: President Obama on the Supreme Court Ruling on Immigration Reform," June 23, 2016

McClatchy, "Supreme Court acts, and Obama's immigration legacy takes a hit," June 23, 2016

New York Times, "Supreme Court tie blocks Obama immigration plan," June 23, 2016

PolitiFact, "Hillary Clinton's top 10 campaign promises," July 22, 2016

Interview, David Leopold, past president of American Immigration Lawyers Association," June 28, 2016

Congress refuses Obama's goal of a path to citizenship

President Barack Obama's promise to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants has faced a major roadblock due to resistance in Congress.

He took steps on his own to give temporary status to certain illegal immigrants, but he has not gone as far as providing a path to citizenship.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama promised to support "a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens."

In 2012, Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which gives temporary status for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. Almost 700,000 have been approved for DACA and about 443,000 have renewed their two-year deferral. But this program does not provide permanent lawful status to applicants.

In 2013, a bipartisan group of senators dubbed the Gang of Eight -- including GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio of Florida -- introduced legislation to overhaul immigration laws. That bill included several hurdles for illegal immigrants, including fines, background checks and a waiting period, before they could be on a path to citizenship. We rated Obama's progress In the Works when the bill was unveiled in 2013.

However, the bill never became law. The bill passed the Senate June 27, 2013, but when House leadership refused to bring it up for a vote, it stalled.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said in November 2015 that he would not bring immigration legislation to Obama. Immigration policy has been a hot topic during the presidential primary. Many candidates in the GOP presidential field have either opposed a path to citizenship or sent mixed signals about it, despite the Republican National Committee's advice in 2013 to embrace comprehensive reform for the next election.

After Congress refused to take up the bill, Obama acted on his own. In November 2014 he announced his administration's plan to delay deportation of unauthorized immigrants for the parents of children who fall under the DACA criteria as well as expand DACA eligibility. To qualify, these parents had to have been in the country for more than five years and met other criteria. But this program has been put on hold amid court challenges.

"Only an act of Congress can bring this into being," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, an organization that supports path to citizenship.  "We have no hope that Congress will pass a path to citizenship this year."

We rate outcomes not intentions, and Obama has not delivered on his promise to provide a path to citizenship. We rate this a Promise Broken.


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, 2012-September 2015

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, Excerpts from Speaker Ryan's Sunday Show Appearances, Nov. 1, 2015

Republican National Committee, "Growth and opportunity project," 2013

PolitiFact, "Hillary Clinton says 'not one' GOP presidential contender backs path to citizenship," May 7, 2015

PolitiFact, "12 key fact-checks on immigration and executive action," Nov. 20, 2014

PolitiFact, "Federal judge called Obama immigration action 'unconstitutional,' David Jolly says," March 5, 2015

Interview, Steve Blando, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman, Jan. 11, 2016

Interview, Frank Sharry, executive director America's Voice, Jan. 11, 2016


Seeing some bipartisanship on immigration

Call it a reboot: President Barack Obama broke a promise four years ago to take up a comprehensive immigration bill in his first year.

Such a bill, as Obama describes it, would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Instead, that bill may emerge in the first year of his second term — at least in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

But this time, there's a chance one could make it through the Republican House, too.

A bipartisan group of senators released a plan on Jan. 28, 2013, followed the next day by a presidential speech from Las Vegas.

"For comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship,” Obama said.

The senators' framework, meanwhile, encourages "a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required."

The immigration Group of Eight includes Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado, as well as Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

The lawmakers asked their colleagues to pass a bill by summer, CQ Weekly reported.

If senators do act, the House is expected to take up legislation — though it might write its own bill, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy told CNN on March 10, 2013.

That would leave lawmakers working out their differences in a conference committee.

"It's better if the House works the way it's designed, where the House passes a bill ... and the Senate passes a bill, then it goes to conference," McCarthy said.

The recent bipartisan embrace of such a path, including by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, indicates "reform prospects look good,” said America's Voice, a group that advocates for a "road to full citizenship” for 11 million immigrants.

We'll watch for specific legislative language to emerge in the spring, but in the meantime, this promise remains In the Works.


White House, "Remarks by the President on Comprehensive Immigration Reform," Jan. 29, 2013

White House, "Keep Up to Date on President Obama's Immigration Proposal," Feb. 6, 2013

White House, "President Obama's Four Part Plan for Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” Jan. 29, 2013

White House, "IMMIGRATION: Creating an Immigration System for the 21st Century," accessed March 12, 2013

White House, "IMMIGRATION: Creating an Immigration System for the 21st Century — Earned Citzenship," accessed March 12, 2013, "Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform," Jan. 28, 2013, "STATEMENT BY SENATOR JOHN McCAIN ON THE BIPARTISAN FRAMEWORK FOR COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM," Jan. 28, 2013


CNN, "'Now's the time' to move on immigration, Obama says," Jan. 30, 2013

CQ Weekly, "Senate Group Outlines Principles for Immigration Policy Overhaul," Feb. 4, 2013  (subscription only)

CNN Transcripts, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY," March 10, 2013

Obama meets with Hispanic leaders to plot new strategy on immigration reform

The last time we checked on this promise, we concluded a Congress with Republicans in control of the U.S. House of Representatives was highly unlikely to approve immigration reform. That's still the case, but we've noted new action from President Obama trying to rekindle public conversation and reset the debate in favor of immigration reform.

In recent weeks, Obama has hosted three separate meetings on immigration reform, primarily with people who support his views on the matter. Representatives have included mayors, police chiefs, business executives, religious leaders, celebrities and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The statements from the White House after each meeting have echoed similar themes: that Obama would like fix the broken immigration system; that he was disappointed that DREAM Act (see update below) failed to pass last year; that he was working to improve the border enforcement and the legal immigration system; and that immigration reform requires legislative action via Congress.

The point to the meetings, though, looked like rallying his supporters to keep up their own work on immigration. 

In a synopsis of a meeting held April 28, The White House press office noted, "The President urged meeting participants to help elevate the debate, and to reach out in their unique capacities and in a public way to forge partnerships across sectors and across demographics. There was broad agreement that more voices are needed to change the tone of the debate so that Congress acts to fix the broken system in a way that upholds America's history as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants."

 We can't say that we see evidence that Congress is more likely to address immigration reform anytime soon. But Obama looks to be rallying his troops to keep immigration reform in the public eye. In the course of our research, we ran across critics who said this is for electoral purposes, to ensure he retains political support from Hispanics going into the 2012 election. 

Whatever Obama's motivation, his hosting of high-profile meetings for immigration reform supporters counts for our purposes. We can't say Obama's chances for ultimate success are concretely better, but the meetings and the White House comments are enough for us to conclude that Obama intends to keep pursuing the matter. Obama explicitly asked his supporters to help him change the tone of the debate on immigration reform in order to create a friendlier environment for Congressional action. So we move the meter on this promise from Stalled to In the Works. 


The White House Office of the Press Secretary, Readout of the President's Meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Fixing the Broken Immigration System, May 3, 2011

The White House Office of the Press Secretary, Background on the President"s Meeting with Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Today, May 3, 2011

The White House Office of the Press Secretary, Background on the President's Meeting with Influential Hispanics from Across the Country on Immigration, April 28, 2011

The White House Office of the Press Secretary, Readout of the President's Meeting with Stakeholders on Fixing the Broken Immigration System, April 19, 2011

The Washington Post, Obama renews effort to reform immigration laws despite detractors, May 3, 2011

Immigration reform appears gridlocked for next Congress

The last time we checked in on this promise, President Obama said he would not be moving on immigration reform in 2009, and we rated the promise Stalled. In 2010, Obama and his fellow Democrats pressed forward with the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, better known as the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act was a measure to intended give a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, as long as they completed schooling or served in the military, and maintained "good moral character." While it passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, it failed procedural hurdles in the Senate and never came to a vote.

The November elections mean the House will have a Republican majority in 2011, making passage of the DREAM Act significantly more difficult, not to mention passage of a path to citizenship for all illegal immigrants.

In fact, Republicans have said they intend to focus on enforcement action. "It is pointless to talk about any new immigration bills that grant amnesty until we secure the border, since such bills will only encourage more illegal immigration," said incoming House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, in a statement.

Obama said that the failure of the DREAM Act was "maybe my biggest disappointment" of the lame duck session and that he remained committed to both the DREAM Act and a comprehensive immigration law. He said he intended to talk more about immigration in the coming year in hopes of to making it more politically popular.

In rating this promise, we see little reason to expect progress anytime soon, though Obama has said he intends to continue to press for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The rating remains Stalled.


U.S. Senate, procedural vote on whether to proceed with the DREAM Act, Dec. 18, 2010

Los Angeles Times, Dream Act fails to advance in Senate, Dec. 18, 2010

The Washington Post, Next Congress unlikely to pass DREAM Act, Republicans say, Dec. 24, 2010

The Washington Post, A lost decade for immigration reform, Dec. 26, 2010

Los Angeles Times, Immigration overhaul effort seems dead, Dec. 27, 2010

Obama has said immigration reform must wait

For those waiting for President Barack Obama to keep his promise to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Obama has said he does intend to fulfill his immigration promise. But he has also said he will not tackle the issue in 2009. Instead, immigration reform must get in line behind health care reform, financial regulations and a cap-and-trade plan on climate change.

Obama gave some of his most extended remarks on the matter at an August news conference with the leaders of Mexico and Canada.

He said he would push for immigration reform in 2010, after the other initiatives had been handled.

"Now, am I going to be able to snap my fingers and get this done? No. This is going to be difficult; it's going to require bipartisan cooperation. There are going to be demagogues out there who try to suggest that any form of pathway for legalization for those who are already in the United States is unacceptable," Obama said.

So Obama has said he's not moving on this promise in 2009.

He's taken steps to appease critics of illegal immigration in the debate over health care reform. For example, he added restrictions to specifically bar illegal immigrants from using their own money to purchase health insurance through any new health insurance exchanges. (Pending proposals already barred illegal immigrants from receiving subsidized care.)

Obama said that he will not push for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in 2009, so we rate this promise Stalled.


White House Web site, Press conference by President Obama, President Calderon of Mexico and Prime Minister Harper of Canada , Aug. 10, 2009

Washington Post, Obama vows to focus on the border, but immigration action won't come until 2010 , Aug. 11, 2009

Los Angeles Times, Quantcast Obama takes heat from other side of immigrant healthcare debate , Sept. 16, 2009

White House Web site, Word from the White House: Reality Check on Taxes, Undocumented Immigrants, Rationing , Oct. 1, 2009