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Legal scholars: Obama’s immigration actions lawful

Jim Kuhnhenn
Associated Press

Washington — More than 100 immigration professors and scholars declared Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s decision to make several million immigrants illegally in the United States eligible to be spared from deportation is constitutional and within his administrative powers.

The 135 scholars focused on two major provisions of Obama’s executive actions announced last week. One would shield parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents from deportation and allow them to apply for work permits. The other measure would expand a program that shielded immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally as children. Those two programs could affect up to 4.4 million people.

The scholars’ statement asserts that the president’s actions are a proper use of prosecutorial discretion.

Republicans reacted furiously to Obama’s decision, calling the offer of deportation relief and work permits unlawful and unconstitutional. Some of Obama’s legal critics argue a president’s job is to enforce the laws passed by Congress and say Obama is acting in defiance of Congress.

The White House has argued that past Republican and Democratic presidents have used their executive authority to protect immigrants from deportation. Obama’s actions, however, would affect a far larger number of immigrants than other presidents did with their directives.

Critics like John Yoo and Robert Delahunty, both of whom worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during President George W. Bush’s administration, argue that the president doesn’t have such broad latitude and that prosecutorial discretion can only be applied narrowly.

The scholars, in their statement, said the broad scope of Obama’s actions did not make them any less lawful.

“The president could conceivably decide to cap the number of people who can receive prosecutorial discretion or make the conditions restrictive enough to keep the numbers small, but this would be a policy choice, not a legal issue,” they wrote.

The statement is an updated version of a Sept. 3 letter from some of the same professors and immigration experts to Obama spelling out legal arguments and precedents for executive action.

It was organized by immigration law experts Hiroshi Motomura at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia at the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law, and Stephen H. Legomsky at the Washington University School of Law.