President Barack Obama said Tuesday that it is “not an option” for his administration to take executive action to freeze the deportations of parents of children brought to the United States illegally, a move that immigrant rights advocates have pushed him to take if Congress fails to pass immigration reform legislation this year.
In an interview with Telemundo, Obama said the legal underpinning of a 2012 executive action to defer deportations for those brought to the United States as children was “absolutely right” but that expanding exemptions to a larger population of undocumented immigrants would go too far.
“What we can do is then carve out the DREAM Act, saying that young people who have basically grown up here are Americans that we should welcome,” Obama said. “We're not going to have them operate under a cloud, under a shadow. But if we start broadening that, then essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that's not an option.”
The president, who has long said that immigration reform is a top domestic policy priority of his second term, also had tough words for the immigration advocates who have encouraged him to freeze deportations, which activists say needlessly separate families and violate basic rights.
“I do get a little worried that advocates of immigration reform start losing heart and immediately think ‘Well-- yeah, somehow there's an out here, if Congress doesn't act. We'll just have the president sign something and that'll take care of it and we won't have to worry about it,’” Obama said.
Obama has previously said that he cannot halt deportation orders, even as the prospects of the passage of comprehensive immigration reform in Congress have continued to fade.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a leading Republican advocate for reform, warned last month that Obama would be “tempted” to legalize undocumented immigrants “with the stroke of a pen” if Congress stonewalled the bipartisan compromise bill.
Sweeping comprehensive immigration legislation passed the Senate in June, but the GOP-led House has declined to take up the upper chamber’s bill, with leaders saying they hope to bring up smaller pieces of legislation to address border security and employment verification.
On Tuesday, Obama placed blame for the stall squarely with House Speaker John Boehner, saying that the Senate-passed bill would be approved with Democratic and Republican support if Boehner allowed the legislation to come to a vote.
“This is really a question that should be directed to Mr. John Boehner. What's stopping him from going ahead and calling that bill?” Obama said, adding that the House Speaker “shouldn't be afraid of majority opinion on this thing.”
The president added that he will still support a series of bills passed through the House piece-by-piece as long as they include the White House’s policy goals, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“There's a path to get this done, and that's through Congress,” Obama said. “And right now, everybody should be focused on making sure that that bill that's already passed out of the Senate hits the floor of the House of Representatives.”
A Boehner spokesman affirmed that the Speaker believes the House must take a "step-by-step" approach.
"If immigration reform is going to work, it is essential that we have the confidence of the American people that it’s done the right way," said spokesman Brendan Buck. "That means a deliberate, step-by-step approach, not another massive Obamacare-style bill that people don’t understand.”