Washington: US President Barack Obama has decided to delay executive action on altering US immigration policy until after the 4 November midterm elections, a White House official said.

The president hasn’t decided what action to take, the official said, adding that his decision would be made between the elections and the end of the year.

Obama, after promising to act by the end of summer, bowed to the concerns of some Senate Democrats who said the issue would work against re-election of several incumbents in southern states, with control of the Senate at stake.

“The reality the President has had to weigh is that we’re in the midst of the political season, and because of the Republicans’ extreme politicization of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections," according to a statement issued by the White House. Democrats and their allies hold 55 seats in the 100-member chamber, which means Republicans need a net gain of six seats to take control. They are poised to gain at least six and perhaps as many as eight seats, according to a 4 September analysis by Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics, at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Recent decision

As a result, the President wanted to remove the issue from politics as much as possible in advance of the elections, a White House official said in a telephone interview. Obama made the decision on Air Force One last night as he returned to Washington from the annual summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Wales, another White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe internal White House deliberations.

Legislation to overhaul immigration laws remains stalled in Congress, with Republicans stressing border control and Democrats pushing to ease deportations.

“We are bitterly disappointed in the President and we are bitterly disappointed in the Senate Democrats," Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a Washington-based group that favours changes in immigration policy. “We advocates didn’t make the reform promise; we just made the mistake of believing it."

Obama has threatened for months to take action on his own if Congress didn’t act. Still, some Democrats urged the president to delay executive action, for fear of hurting Democratic candidates and energizing Republicans.

‘Cowboy’ image

“It runs risks of looking as though he’s a cowboy doing stuff on his own" that could energize conservatives, Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington, said in an interview on Friday, before Obama made the decision to delay.

Three of the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrats in this year’s midterm elections had urged Obama to hold off on executive orders until after the November elections. They are Senators Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

“I am extremely disappointed that the House has stalled on comprehensive immigration reform, but this is an issue that I believe should be addressed legislatively and not through executive order," Hagan said in a statement.

The White House statement said “nothing replaces Congress acting on comprehensive immigration legislation", and he blamed Republicans for not acting. “The president will take action on immigration before the end of the year," the statement said.

Decision ‘shameful’

Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org, a group that promotes Latino interests, expressed outrage at the delay.

“Today’s announcement by President Obama is shameful, and he is once again demonstrating that for him, politics come before the lives of Latino and immigrant families," Carmona said in a statement.

Tamar Jacoby, the Republican chief executive officer of ImmigrationWorks USA, a Washington-based group advocating for immigration changes on behalf of small and mid-sized businesses, said the delay won’t make much difference because the policies under consideration are fundamentally flawed.

“The small- and medium-sized employers I represent, who hire immigrants, want a system that gives them workers legally and this isn’t going to fix that," Jacoby said in an interview. “It doesn’t make that much difference whether he does it now or later because it doesn’t fix the problem, so for business it’s all politics." Bloomberg

Heidi Przybyla and Jeff Kearns in Washington contributed to this story.