Washington (CNN) – A possible move by Obama administration to single-handedly act on immigration reform before November's midterm elections could have major political consequences.
The White House could by the end of the summer use executive action to grant work permits to possibly millions of undocumented immigrants, multiple sources confirm to CNN. Such a move would legally allow such undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S.
The influx of Central American children trying to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S., many of them unaccompanied, has been a major media story over the past two months. The White House and many Democrats have clashed with Republicans in Congress and governors over who is to blame and what should be done about it. President Barack Obama has requested nearly $4 billion to deal with the crisis on the southern border but a House Republican plan would provide less than a quarter of what Obama's asking.
Last month, Obama said he was starting "a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress."
With the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed last summer by the Senate all but dead in the GOP-controlled House, Obama said that "if Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours," adding he expected the recommendations by the end of summer and would act on them without delay.
Asked about the reported proposal to give work permits to undocumented immigrants, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, "What is underway right now is a review at the order of the President by the secretary of Homeland Security and the attorney general to consider what options are available to the President."
Earnest added that once that review is complete, "I anticipate that we'll have an announcement about steps that the President has decided to take to address some of these problems."
A large scale move by the White House on immigration could cause instant fireworks. Conservatives would yell "amnesty" - their interpretation of a pathway to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally - and the roster of Republicans calling for Obama to be impeached would surely increase.
Border crisis front and center in key Senate race
The move would have instant reverberations on the campaign trail, with one third of the Senate and the entire House being contested in November.
Democrats have a 55-45 majority in the Senate (53 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the party). But in the midterms, the party is defending 21 of the 36 seats up for grabs, with half of those Democratic-held seats in red or purple states. In the House, the Democrats would need to pick up an extremely challenging 17 Republican-held seats to win back the majority from the GOP.
Facing a lawsuit by House Republicans and calls for impeachment, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Maria Cardona said the President "at this point has nothing to lose and everything to gain."
"It will energize the base and will energize Latino voters - to what extent is the question but every little bit helps since there are enough eligible Latinos in enough swing districts that could register and vote - that could flip the House," Cardona said.
A larger turnout by Latino voters could be crucial, because a typical, smaller midterm electorate should favor Republicans. That's because minority voters such as Latinos, and younger people and single women, all of whom are big supporters of Democrats in presidential election years, tend to cast ballots in smaller numbers in the midterms.
Republican strategist and CNN contributor Ana Navarro disagreed with Cardona's assertion, saying the President is "in such a box" when it comes to immigration.
"Politically, he's under huge pressure from immigration advocates and Latino leadership. Midterms are approaching and Hispanics, a key part of the Democrat coalition, are disillusioned and unmotivated. Obama has gone from 'President Si, se puede,' to the 'Deporter-in-Chief,' " Navarro said.
Longtime GOP consultant Alex Castellanos says an executive order by Obama could hurt fellow Democrats facing tough re-elections this year.
"If you are a Democrat in a swing district, Barack Obama has just made your life impossibly difficult, charging up your opponent's voters and giving him a couple of extra points in November," said Castellanos, who predicts a GOP wave in November.
"President Obama doesn't seem to care what he does to his own party. He seems to be willing to sacrifice the U.S. Senate and more seats in the House to make this a borderless country," added Castellanos, a CNN contributor.
Spike in importance of issue
The crisis on the nation's southern border appears to be fueling a notable shift in American attitudes toward immigration policy with border security growing in importance, according to a new national survey.
According to a recent CNN/ORC International poll, 51% now say the government's focus on immigration policy should be formulating a plan to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants. Forty-five percent say the top priority should be developing a plan that would allow undocumented immigrants who have jobs to become legal residents. That's a change from February, when Americans said 54%-41% that legal status trumped border security.
Border crisis impacts public opinion
The attention the current crisis is receiving is also fueling a spike in those who say the issue's extremely important. Thirty-nine percent now say it's extremely important for the President and Congress to deal with illegal immigration, up 10 points from last year.
With all the attention now focused on the issue, any move by the President will be under the microscope.
CNN White House Correspondent Athena Jones and CNN White House Producer Becky Brittain contributed to this report