A bipartisan group of immigration reform advocates urged President Obama on Thursday not to use executive action to expand his Dream Act nondeportation policy to all illegal immigrants, saying it would not only be potentially illegal but could ruin the chances for a big bill to pass Congress.
"It would generate such anger that it probably jeopardizes the ability to go forward in good faith on immigration reform in Congress," said Henry Cisneros, a former Cabinet secretary in the Clinton administration and now one of the Bipartisan Policy Center's immigration task force members. "The waters will be so poisoned politically there will be doubt introduced about the motives of the administration."
The BPC supports legalization, but its stance against expanding the nondeportation policy is a significant pushback against immigrant-rights advocates who have urged Mr. Obama to use executive powers to stop deporting almost all illegal immigrants.
Mr. Obama's deportation record, which totals about 400,000 removals a year, has been a divisive issue. Those who want to see a crackdown argue he's cooking the books and that most rank-and-file illegal immigrants face little danger of deportation, while immigrant advocates say he's still deporting too many people who don't have major criminal records.
Last month, seven illegal immigrants handcuffed themselves to the White House fence to protest the pace of deportations and to call for all sides to pass a bill that would legalize illegal immigrants.
Mr. Obama in 2012 used what he called prosecutorial discretion powers to halt deportations of many younger illegal immigrants who are considered among the most sympathetic cases of the immigration debate. Nearly half a million of them have been granted tentative legal status and work permits under the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
But the BPC said it's questionable whether the president has the authority to act that broadly.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who served in the George W. Bush administration, said even if more immigrants were granted deferred action, it doesn't solve the problem for businesses that would have to decide whether to hire them.
And he said by going only part of the way, it could halt momentum toward a full legalization solution.
For his part, Mr. Obama said last month he doesn't believe he could use the same authority he used in DACA to apply to all illegal immigrants.
"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," he told Telemundo.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents challenged Mr. Obama's DACA policy in court earlier this year and a judge agreed with them that the administration likely had overstepped its bounds by telling agents they couldn't arrest illegal immigrants.
But the judge said another federal law meant the issue should have been raised in collective bargaining, not through the courts, so he threw out the lawsuit.
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