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Commentators to President Obama: On Deportations, You DO Have Discretion

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Since President Obama’s immigration speech in San Francisco this week–and its disruption by Ju Hong, a DREAMer from South Korea–commentators have been trying to figure out whether Obama has the authority to stop deportations.

For some reason (ahem), Politifact decided to examine exactly what Ju said to the President — and determined it was “mostly false.” But Politifact was trying to answer the specific question of whether Obama can stop deportations “for all undocumented immigrants in this country” (emphasis ours).

This is not a question of all or nothing.  The Obama administration can work to make sure that the people they’re deporting are real criminal priorities, rather than fathers like Brigido or devoted church members like Hector.  That was the intent behind DHS’ 2011 prosecutorial discretion memo–guidelines which are still not properly implemented.  And it’s the reasoning behind a 2012 letter from nearly 100 law professors saying that yes, Obama does have the power to give relief to immigrants.

As our Executive Director Frank Sharry recently told the Christian Science Monitor:

I think [Obama] overstates the case that he doesn’t have the authority.  He may not have authority to give people a path to citizenship. Of course he doesn’t. But does he have the authority to have DHS implement his priorities and reflect his values? Yes, and that’s not happening.

Or as a New York Times editorial published yesterday put it:

While the president cannot throw out whole sections of immigration law to bypass Congressional inaction, he does have discretion in choosing how to enforce it wisely. Mr. Obama was firmly within the law when he selectively halted deportations for some immigrants brought here illegally as children and for spouses and children of service members and veterans. He can undoubtedly expand administrative efforts to protect other immigrants left stranded by legislative failure.

Mr. Obama said on Monday that he was up for the hard, messy work of reform. “I am going to march with you and fight with you every step of the way,” he said.

But, as he keeps making such promises to people whose family members he is deporting in record numbers while protesting that he is powerless to stop himself, it seems only fair to ask: How hard are you fighting, really?