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President Obama on Tuesday rejected the suggestion that he has changed his position on immigration and deportations — and dismissed a lawsuit filed by 20 states challenging his recent changes to immigration policy.
In the interview, Fusion’s Jorge Ramos challenged Obama on past statements in which the president said he didn’t have the legal authority to suspend deportations because he wasn’t a “king” or an “emperor.” Ramos said Obama did “just that” last month, when he took unilateral action that will shield up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Obama said he hadn’t changed his mind on the matter, but a review by the Department of Homeland Security produced more lawful steps his administration could take.
“At the time, Jorge — and I can run back the tape on your questions and some of the questions at that town hall — the notion was that we could just stop deportations. Period. And we can’t do that,” Obama said.
“What I’ve said very clearly and consistently is that we have to enforce our immigration laws, but that we have prosecutorial discretion given the limited resources. And we can’t deport 11 million people.”
Obama said he made it a priority to focus resources on border security and deporting criminals early in his presidency. That focus was sharpened in 2012, he said, when his administration announced the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which has helped hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants avoid deportation. Obama painted his latest move to shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation in a similar light.
Ramos pushed back.
“As you’re saying, you always had the legal authority to stop deportations. Then why did you deport 2 million people? For six years you did it,” Ramos said.
“You destroyed many families,” Ramos added. “They called you the ‘deporter-in-chief.’”
“You called me deporter-in-chief,” Obama said. “I did not.”
Ramos pointed out that it was Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil-rights advocacy group, who bestowed that title on Obama.
“But you could’ve stopped deportations,” Ramos said.
“That is not true,” Obama fired back. “Listen, here’s the fact of the matter. Jorge, here’s the fact of the matter. As president of the United States, I’m always responsible for problems that aren’t solved right away. I regret millions of people who didn’t get health insurance before I passed health insurance, and before I implemented it. I regret the fact that there are kids who should’ve been going to college during my presidency, but because we didn’t get to them fast enough, they gave up on college.
“The question is: Are we doing the right thing, and have we consistently tried to move this country in a better direction? And those — like you, sometimes, Jorge — who just suggest that there are simple, quick answers to these problems … when you present it in that way, it does a disservice, because it makes the assumption that the political process is one that can easily be moved around depending on the will of one person. And that’s not how things work.”
Obama said the key to cementing his immigration changes is broad, comprehensive legislation that comes from Congress and supplants his executive actions. But that seems unlikely — Republicans, who now control both the House of Representatives and the Senate, say Obama moving unilaterally on immigration has ruined chances for bipartisan cooperation.
“Right now, by the actions that I’ve taken, I still have 5 million people who do not have the ability to get registered and be confident that they’re not going to be deported,” Obama said. “In fact, what’s going to happen sometime over the next two days, week, month is that there are going to be some folks who are still going to be caught up in the system because we have to go and train ICE workers so that they’re responding in a different way.
“So the question I have for you, Jorge — because you’re going to have a big voice — is, are you going to do a good job, now that we’ve taken these actions, in making sure people understand what their opportunities are, how we can take advantage of it, and how we can build to make sure that, going forward, not only do we register as many people as possible … and we lay the groundwork for passing comprehensive immigration reform.”