Obama defends executive action: 'Immigration benefits everyone'

US President Barack Obama speaks about his recent executive actions on immigration on Dec. 9, 2014 at the Casa Azafran in Nashville, Tenn. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)
US President Barack Obama speaks about his recent executive actions on immigration on Dec. 9, 2014 at the Casa Azafran in Nashville, Tenn.

Top administration officials are out on the offensive this week, rallying support behind the latest executive actions on immigration in the face of growing opposition from around the country.

In an op-ed published Monday in The Tennessean, President Barack Obama chided congressional Republicans for punting on comprehensive immigration reform, and highlighted how immigrant communities in Nashville are interwoven into the city's culture.

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"They work as teachers in our schools, doctors in our hospitals, and cops in our neighborhoods. They start small businesses and create jobs making this city a more prosperous, more innovative place," Obama wrote of the "New Nashvillians" who are settling in Tennessee. 

"'They' are 'us,'" he continued. "When done right, immigration benefits everyone."

Nashville has seen a spike in its immigrant population, a far cry from just six years ago when the city's voters were poised to approve a referendum making English the official language in the metro area. The shifting demographics, and growing public acceptance toward the city's immigrant community, likely led the president to travel to the home of country music to pitch his executive action on immigration.

Nonetheless, growing hostility toward the president's actions — led by Republicans at both the state and federal levels — has made the measures a hard sell. Nearly half of the states in the country are suing the White House over the actions, which would allow as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to live in the U.S. temporarily and seek work. Meanwhile in Congress, House Republicans singled out the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), voting to fund the agency tasked with carrying out the executive actions only until February of next year, when a Republican-controlled Congress can renew attempts to torpedo the actions before they even start up.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson raised the issue Monday while visiting South Texas to mark the opening of a new detention facility designed to house immigrant mothers and their children. Even as the flood of unaccompanied minors detained at the southwest border has dramatically decreased since the height of scrutiny this summer, immigration officials are working to increase the amount of detention space to hold them. The only way to keep those operations moving into 2015 is for Congress to fund the department, Johnson said, pressing for more resources at the border.

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"This must be clear: Our borders are not open to illegal migration," Johnson said in his prepared remarks. "To enforce this policy, we are maintaining, and adding to, the border security resources we put in place to respond to the spike in illegal migration into South Texas last summer."

A new facility in Dilley, Texas, located roughly 70 miles southwest of San Antonio, will replace a makeshift facility in Artesia, New Mexico, that was converted to detention space this summer in response to the humanitarian crisis at the border. The facility in Dilley has more than three times the capacity of the Artesia site — a troubling development for human rights and immigrant advocates who argue that family detention centers should be closed, not expanded.