President Obama is under intense pressure from immigration advocates to use his executive authority to stop deportations.
The advocates, who are planning a nationwide demonstration this Saturday, say he can do more to decrease the number of deportations without approval from Congress.
The Obama administration has deported some 2.1 million illegal immigrants since the president took office — the most of any administration in U.S. history.
Obama has said he would use executive action more and more to overcome partisan gridlock in Congress. And he has used it to implement immigration policy in several different ways.
During the past two years, more than half a million people brought to the United States illegally as children have benefited from the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known by its acronym, DACA. They have received a two-year deferral from deportation, and work permits that can be renewed.
Obama also instructed immigration authorities in 2011 to use 'prosecutorial discretion' to allow immigrants with clean criminal records and strong ties to the U.S. to stay here.
Despite these measures, immigration advocates say Obama has not done enough.
“The deportations and the family separation that is happening has really created a moral and human rights crisis in our communities,” said Cristina Jimenez, the managing director of United We Dream, the largest youth immigrant advocacy group. “The President is deporting parents. That’s what we’re seeing right now. And he definitely has authority to address that and change that.”
The president says his hands are tied by the current law.
“The reason that these deportations are taking place is that Congress said you have to enforce these laws,” he told Univision and Telemundo in March. “They fund the hiring of officials at the department that’s charged with enforcement, and I cannot ignore those laws any more than I could ignore any of the other laws that are on the books.”
Congress appropriates around $3 billion to deport around 400,000 people each year. That’s a fraction of the estimated 11.5 million immigrants in the country illegally. Conservative critics say Obama is already over-reaching and refusing to enforce the law.
"Thus far President Obama has used his authority to largely narrow the scope of immigration enforcement,” said Jon Feere, the legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for reduced immigration. “We’ve gotten to a point where it’s extremely unlikely for your average illegal immigrant to face deportation because of the administrative policies that the White House has put forth.”