President Obama on Tuesday ruled out using his executive authority to freeze deportations for most of the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, saying such a move would violate federal law.
With a comprehensive immigration overhaul stalled on Capitol Hill, advocates have called on the president to move forward without congressional approval to halt the deportations, estimated at more than 1,000 per day.
But Obama said such a move is “not an option.” During an interview at the White House with Telemundo, the Spanish-language television network, Obama defended his decision last summer to defer the deportations of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents as children. The legal rationale in that case, he said, was to allow federal agencies to devote more time and resources to high-priority immigration cases such as those involving people with multiple criminal convictions.
But he said that expanding that deferment program beyond the young people it now covers “would be ignoring the law in a way that would be very difficult to defend legally.”
The president’s decision is likely to disappoint advocates who are beginning to lose hope that sweeping immigration legislation will advance out of Congress this year. House Republicans have refused to vote on a Senate-approved plan that features a 13-year path to citizenship for the undocumented, choosing instead to focus on piecemeal bills dealing with increased border security and workplace visas.
House leaders said they will hold a policy meeting Thursday on issues important to the Latino community, including immigration, and they released a video to mark the start of Hispanic Heritage Month this week. But the video made no mention of immigration, and some lawmakers who support of a comprehensive overhaul said they fear the clock is running out as Congress and the White House turn to an extended debate over the budget and debt ceiling.