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What can the president do administratively on immigration?

Historians might some day look back in detail from a future vantage point on how the current administration sought to respond to tough immigration issues that marked its tenure, especially given the political partisanship operative on Capitol Hill these days.

Indeed, pundits and politicians, as well as constitutional scholars, seem to be firmly focused at the moment on what the president will do next as he seeks to implement immigration law reforms. One recent media article on the topic notes that officials in the president’s camp are currently “trying to determine how far President Obama can go … through executive action.”

That is certainly the central question, given that necessary reform legislation is not forthcoming from Congress. The administration blames Republican recalcitrance for that, with opponents of the administration countering that the president is acting beyond his legal authority in employing executive powers that bypass congressional approval.

What can be done by White House executive action to curb deportations and implement other reforms without giving rise to strong legal challenges?

Government attorneys and other officials are presently considering that very question, with possible choices for action expected to be presented to the president in short order.

A number of legal commentators have weighed in on the matter, centrally noting that President Obama is not without options that will pass constitutional muster.

One of those might be the issuance of a memo to federal prosecutors that instructs them to focus deportation efforts on only hardened criminals. Another possible course of action for the president is expansion of a program that grants temporary lawful status and work permits to children, opening it up to their parents and to illegal immigrants with American-born children.

Both praise and criticism will flow from whatever the president does, with administration officials and immigration law commentators routinely noting that Congress must eventually step in with major reform legislation.

Source: The Hill, "White House eyes limits of executive immigration powers," Justin Sink, Aug. 6, 2014

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