The administration official who would administer any broader executive actions on immigration said Tuesday he believes President Obama has the broad legal authority to halt most deportations.
Leon Rodriguez, the new director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said that no decisions have been made on whether or how broadly to expand Mr. Obama’s non-deportation policies, but said the president can go as far as he wants.
“It is my understanding based on my experience, based on my understanding, there is pretty broad prosecutorial discretion,” he told Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican. Mr. Poe asked if there were any limits and Mr. Rodriguez said the limits were whatever was written in the law, but couldn’t identify any in the case of illegal immigrants.
He later said that “the options are many” that the president could take.
Mr. Obama himself used to say he didn’t have such broad authority, repeatedly telling immigrant-rights advocates he had to follow the law and couldn’t issue broad categorical relief.
But his top officials have since backed away from that and said they do believe he has the power.
It’s similar to what happened in his first term, when he said he didn’t have unilateral authority to halt deportations for young adult illegal immigrants who call themselves “Dreamers,” but in the months before the 2012 election he reversed course and claimed the authority to grant them tentative legal status.
Congressional Republicans are pursuing a lawsuit against Mr. Obama arguing he has failed to enforce or follow the laws Congress wrote — though the lawsuit is expected to focus on Obamacare, rather than on immigration.