White House Won’t Rule Out Executive Action On Immigration If Reform Isn’t Passed

Obama Immigration Speech Heckler
An anti-deportation protester in the audience shouts at U.S. President Barack Obama, stopping him temporarily from delivering remarks during an event on immigration reform in San Francisco. Reuters

When President Barack Obama was heckled during public events in San Francisco last Monday, where he combined fundraising efforts for his Democratic peers with a continued push for House Republicans to act on immigration reform, the president told one heckler that he did not have the authority to halt deportations of undocumented immigrants and emphasized that reform would have to come through the legislative process.  But later in the week, when White House spokesman Josh Earnest was questioned on whether or not Obama could use executive authority for addressing immigration issues in the future, Earnest would not rule out the possibility entirely.

"I don't want to speculate about what sort of actions the president might or might not take," Earnest told reporters, according to the Hill, although the White House spokesman also maintained that "there is not" any executive action the president could legally take in lieu of congressional action on a reform of the nation's immigration system.  Last Monday, when Obama was interrupted in San Francisco by a heckler who demanded he stop deportations, the president responded, "If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so.  But we're also a nation of laws. That's part of our tradition. And so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws."

Matthew Kolken, an immigration lawyer and author of a blog on deportations, wrote last week that Obama had the authority to exercise "prosecutorial discretion" to extend protection from deportation to a wider group of undocumented immigrants.  "It appears that the President has forgotten about the Morton memo, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Provisional Unlawful Presence Waivers, and the most recent memorandum providing Parole in Place for Military Families," Kolken wrote, adding that the president "was being disingenuous at best, and lying at worst" in saying he could not put a halt to deportations.

The president's past use of prosecutorial discretion has angered many Republicans, who call it a breakdown in the rule of law, and the House Judiciary Committee announced last week that it would hold a hearing on Tuesday morning as to whether it constituted a breach of the "faithful execution" of law, as required by the Constitution.

RELATED: Watch Obama Get Heckled By Deportation Protestor During Immigration Speech [VIDEO]

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David Iaconangelo is a Brooklyn-based writer and translator.  Formerly editor of ZafraLit, a blog of new short fiction from Cuba.  He has lived in and reported from various Latin American countries.