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'Wrong side of the Constitution'? Obama likely to delay deportations, say experts

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FILE: June 18, 2014: U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Ariz. (AP)

One of President Obama’s first moves toward trying to “fix” the U.S. immigration system without Congress will almost certainly be to expand on his 2012 executive order postponing deportation for potentially millions of young illegal immigrants, say experts on both sides of the debate.

Obama will likely sidestep Congress on immigration reform by expanding on his so-called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals memorandum, which essentially allows young illegal immigrants to remain in the United States if they were brought into the country illegally by their parents and have not been convicted of a major crime, Federation for American Immigration Reform spokesman Ira Mehlman predicted.

“I expect him to continue to ignore U.S. immigration law,” Mehlman said. “This can all be traced back to the DACA program … under the guise of not splitting up families.”

Although many Republicans believe President Obama is overreaching on the issue by advancing his immigration agenda without the support of Congress, there is broad support among Latinos, labor groups and other Democrat constituencies for him to act unilaterally. 

The idea of extending delayed deportation to parents of young illegal immigrants also appears popular among Hispanic voters and will likely be recommended to the president by pro-immigration-reform groups with whom he has reportedly met in recent weeks.

A poll of registered Hispanic voters for the Center for American Progress Action Fund found strong support for renewing DACA as well as delaying deportation for the parents of young illegals protected under the program, people married to U.S. citizens and those living illegally in the United States for more than 10 years.

The respondents were “super excited” about such actions if they included the option of a work permit for illegals, said Gary Sugura of Latino Decisions, the opinion research group that conducted the poll. He also pointed out that Democratic candidates running in 2014 and beyond would benefit significantly from such changes.

The respondents were less supportive of so-called prosecutorial discretion, which essentially gives immigration officials say over which cases to pursue and prosecute.

As a sign of just how important the work permit issue is to pro-immigration advocates, particularly big business and organized labor, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Janet Murguia, head of the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group, on Tuesday called on Obama to provide work permits to everyone who would have been eligible for citizenship under the bipartisan immigration bill passed last year by the Senate.

Obama has already taken the first step in directing Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to shift resources from the U.S. interior to the Mexico border. And he has asked both for recommendations by the end of summer on the types of executive actions he could take.

“And I intend to adopt those recommendations without further delay,” Obama said in his Rose Garden remarks Monday.

In addition, the Center for American Progress, the liberal-leaning think tank influential in shaping Obama administration policy, released a 42-page study, which Marshall Fitz, the group’s director of immigration policy, calls “a roadmap for executive action on immigration.”

The study claims Obama has authority to use enforcement reforms and affirmative relief to implement his immigration agenda in spite of opposition in the House.

Reform involves prioritizing how and whether enforcement is conducted when someone comes into contact with the authorities. And the relief focuses on identifying illegal immigrants considered low priority for deportation, then creating a procedure for them to seek temporary protection from being removed from the country, according to the report.

Sugura and Center for American Progress officials acknowledge that Obama cannot stop all deportations, that any executive action is temporary and only Capitol Hill legislation can provide a permanent solution, which they say should include a path to legal status and eventual citizenship for the roughly 11.7 million illegal immigrants living in the country. 

Obama argues he has been compelled to act in large part because of the recent surge in unaccompanied Central American children showing up by the thousands at the U.S.-Mexico border and the GOP-controlled House’s unwillingness to vote on the issue until at least after the November elections.

"American cannot wait forever ... ," Obama said Monday. "That is why, today, I am beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress."

House Speaker John Boehner and other members of the House Republican Caucus argue the recent border problem is the result of executive actions that have enticed people to try to enter the U.S. illegally. And they plan to sue Obama over his use of such actions, serving notice that more moves by the president on immigration would only stiffen their opposition.

"If the president insists on enacting amnesty by executive order, he will undoubtedly face a lawsuit and will find himself, once again, on the wrong side of the Constitution and the law," said Texas GOP Rep. Lamar Smith.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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