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What exactly can the president do concerning immigration?

Anyone who has been following the news for the last several months is well aware of how momentum on immigration reform -- or the lack thereof -- has proven to be a major source of contention between the White House and the House of Representatives.

Indeed, the issue was recently thrust back into the spotlight after President Obama promised to start acting on his own via executive actions in order to introduce change to the U.S. immigration system.

While the president has already done this to a certain extent, pundits are already speculating about what areas he might target next.

All this of course begs the question as to what exactly President Obama can and cannot do on his own when it comes to immigration.

In general, legal experts indicate that President Obama cannot do things like prevent people from applying for asylum, as these guidelines are set forth in the United Nations Refugee Convention, a treaty to which the U.S. is a signatory nation. Similarly, he cannot change the number of green cards available to the spouses or children of U.S. citizens, as these limits are set by Congress.

Most importantly, however, is that he cannot sign an executive order conferring citizenship status on the nation's million of undocumented immigrants.

"There are constitutional limits on what the president can do. We have a tripartite government system. The Congress enacts the laws; the President implements the laws," said a professor at Cornell University Law School. "The President ... cannot create an immigration law. He has to get Congress' approval to change an immigration law. "

It should be noted, however, that there are certain meaningful steps that President Obama could take regarding immigration that would be within his delineated powers.

As discussed before, he can make changes to deportation policies by reprioritizing the list of who should be subject to prosecution and removal, and even follow New York's lead by boosting the amount of free legal representation available to indigent immigrants facing deportation.

In addition, he can authorize more border patrol agents or the National Guard to be dispatched to the southern U.S., and he can authorize the continuation of the heretofore highly successful the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program.

It will be interesting to see what actions President Obama decides to take and what response, if any, it will engender in the House.

If you would like to learn more about U.S. immigration law -- employment visas, family immigration, criminal defense -- consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

Source: CNN, "5 things Obama can and can't do on immigration," Halimah Abdullah, July 2, 2014  

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