GOP Senator: Obama Can’t Just Legalize all Immigrants by Himself


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Bill Clark/Roll Call(MESA, Ariz.) — Sen. Marco Rubio has been pressing his GOP colleagues to back immigration reform, arguing that if they do not, President Obama could legalize many undocumented immigrants on his own. But one of his Republican colleagues blew up that talking point on Tuesday.

It’s highly unlikely Obama would use executive powers to extend legal status to most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., according to Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who drafted the Senate’s immigration bill with Rubio.

“I think that would be very difficult to do,” Flake said during a forum in Mesa, Ariz. “I don’t think that that could happen. I can’t see that happening.”

Rubio and other immigration reform advocates have claimed that Obama could sidestep Congress and offer legal status with an executive action, similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012. That initiative grants a temporary reprieve from deportation for certain young undocumented immigrants, but not full legal status.

“I believe that this president will be tempted, if nothing happens in Congress, he will be tempted to issue an executive order as he did for the DREAM Act kids a year ago, where he basically legalizes 11 million people by the sign of a pen,” Rubio said in an interview earlier this month.

Flake didn’t delve too deeply into his reasoning. But Brad Plumer of The Washington Post provides an explanation here of why it’s unlikely Obama will be able to expand the DACA program to cover a broader undocumented population.

To sum it up, it’s possible for Obama to use his “discretionary power” to defer deportations for some other groups. In fact, his administration issued guidelines last week to grant greater leniency to parents caught in the immigration system.

Even though the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform look dreary in the House, both Flake and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) remain optimistic.

As McCain, another author of the Senate bill, told a questioner: “I don’t accept your premise that the House of Representatives will absolutely reject a path to citizenship.”

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