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Obama crafts rationale for immigration action

– The White House is crafting a blame-it-on-Congress legal justification to back up President Barack Obama’s impending executive actions on immigration.

Facing an expected onslaught of opposition, the administration plans to argue that Congress failed to provide enough resources to fully enforce U.S. laws, thereby ceding wide latitude to the White House to prioritize deportations of the 11.5 million people who are in the country illegally, administration officials and legal experts said. But Republicans, too, are exploring their legal options for stopping Obama from what they’ve deemed egregious presidential overreaching.

A self-imposed, end-of-summer deadline to act on immigration is rapidly approaching. While Obama has yet to receive the formal recommendations he’s requested from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, administration officials said the president is intimately familiar with the universe of options and won’t spend much time deliberating once Johnson delivers his recommendations.

After resisting calls to act alone in hopes Congress would pass a comprehensive immigration fix, Obama in June bowed to immigration activists and said that “if Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours.” The most sweeping, controversial step under consideration involves halting deportation for millions, a major expansion of a 2012 Obama program that deferred prosecutions for those brought here illegally as children.

Roughly half a million have benefited from that program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.

But while prosecutors are routinely expected to use their discretion on a case-by-case basis, such blanket exempting of entire categories of people has never been done on the scale of what Obama is considering – potentially involving many millions of people if he extends relief to parents of DACA children, close relatives of U.S. citizens or immigrants with clean criminal records.

“The question is how broadly can the president extend the categories and still stay on the side of spectrum of ensuring the laws are faithfully executed?” said Cristina Rodriguez, who left the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2013 to teach at Yale Law School.

Other options under consideration, such as changes to how green cards are distributed and counted, might be less controversial because of the support they enjoy from the business community and other influential groups.

Obama’s actions will almost surely be challenged in court.

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