Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Can Obama Unilaterally Ban Deportations?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Can Obama Unilaterally Ban Deportations?

Article excerpt

Last month in San Francisco, President Obama called on Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform. His speech was novel in many respects: The president used the backdrop of a community center in Chinatown to remind voters that immigrants are racially diverse. Also, for the first time in prepared remarks, the president signaled that he would consider a piecemeal approach to immigration reform long favored by Republican leaders in the House of Representatives.

What got the most attention, however, was an unscripted exchange between Mr. Obama and Ju Hong, an undocumented UC Berkeley graduate who interrupted the president, calling on him to use his executive authority to halt all deportations. Mr. Hong's outburst refocused the immigration debate on its thorniest element: addressing the problem of more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants in a manner acceptable to both the Senate's Democratic majority and Republican House leaders.

Though Mr. Obama might have preferred not to have his speech interrupted, the exchange actually may have helped the prospects for immigration reform in some key respects. First, the dramatic nature of the interruption drew more media attention to the speech - and thus to immigration reform - than it might have received otherwise. It also introduced a large, national audience to the idea of halting most deportations.

But does the president really have this authority? Possibly, but taking such action would carry significant political and legal risks. Additionally, an executive order would be far more limited than congressional legislation, because future presidents could reverse the decision and unauthorized immigrants would still not qualify for a pathway to citizenship absent congressional approval.

Still, such an executive order provides an intriguing "nuclear option" for the president. He could potentially employ such action to address gaps in any congressional legislation on immigration reform, or he could merely threaten its use to pressure Congress to pass a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship.

The Constitution delegates to the president the power to execute federal laws, including immigration law. …

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