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Law Professors Agree: Obama Has Executive Power to Provide Relief to DREAMers

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Since the DREAM Act was narrowly defeated in Congress in December 2010, DREAMers around the country have been calling on President Obama to provide executive relief to immigrant youth and their families.  However, the Obama Administration has repeatedly stalled, saying that they lack the legal authority to grant this type of relief.

Legal experts disagree.  On a press call today, legal experts in conjunction with DREAM leaders discussed the details of a newly released memo to the White House, in which nearly 100 law professors have outlined the legal mechanisms by which the President could grant executive relief.

“The water shouldn’t be muddled by doubt of executive authority,” said Hiroshi Motomura, the Susan Westerberg Prager Professor of Law at UCLA and one of the memo’s signers, during the call.  “There is definitely executive authority.  There is not just legal authority but historical authority.  Not only that, but there is a degree of surprise [among the law professors] that there could be any doubt about this question.”

The law professors’ memo is only the latest salvo in the ongoing campaign to prompt action from the President.  In April 2011, 22 US Senators sent a letter asking Obama to provide relief for DREAMers; a month later, a number of former INS officials weighed in on the authority of the executive branch.  Last month, the United We DREAM network launched the “Right to DREAM” campaign featuring rallies, marches, and protests around the country.  Leaders from United We DREAM have also in recent days met with senior White House officials and key Congressional offices, including five Republican Senators or their staff.  Their message is always the same: DREAMers and their families need relief from deportation, and they need it now.

As Lorella Praeli, a United We DREAM leader, said during the call:

White House officials have repeatedly stated that ‘the only permanent solution is legislation in Congress,’ and that the ‘President is doing everything within his power.’ Let there be no mistake–we will continue to push Congress to pass a federal DREAM Act, but we must also hold President Obama to the same standards. The facts are clear: the President is not doing everything he can on this issue.  It’s high time that he deliver on empty promises and use his executive authority to bring much needed reprieve to all DREAMers.

President Obama’s term so far has seen more than one million deportations—more than any other president, including former President Bush.  The pain of these deportations could cause Obama significant trouble this year as he works to mobilize Latino voters for his reelection effort.  Short of comprehensive immigration reform and legislation like the DREAM Act, the DREAMers argue, the President needs to curb these deportations and provide relief for young immigrants and their families.

That’s something he definitely has the power to do, all speakers on today’s call stressed.   As Michael Olivas, Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center said, “It’s never been a question of legal authority.  It’s been about political will.”