Immigration Awkwardness Could Cloud Obama's Meeting With Governors

Dec 5, 2014
Originally published on December 8, 2014 9:01 pm

President Obama is expected to talk about the economy with several governors-elect at the White House, even as one of them spearheads a legal challenge against his executive actions on immigration.

Editor's Note: A quote in the transcript for this story has been incorrectly attributed, and the quote has some extraneous words. Governor-elect Greg Abbott said the following: "That's not prosecutorial discretion. That is a rewriting of the law that Congress wrote."

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For the Obama Administration, the headline of the day is this number - 321,000. That's how many jobs the Labor Department says U.S. employers added last month - way more than expected. President Obama cheered the news at the White House today.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We still have a lot more work to do to make sure that hard-working Americans' wages are growing faster. But the United States continues to outpace most of the world.

CORNISH: A nice piece of news as President Obama went to a meeting earlier today with seven newly elected governors, especially since they're supposed to talk about ways to speed up economic growth. The session may be a little awkward, though. That's because the governor-elect of Texas, Greg Abbott, is suing the president over his executive action on immigration. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Greg Abbott agrees with President Obama that the current U.S. immigration system is broken. But Abbott, who's now attorney general in Texas, says Obama should have left it to Congress to fix that system - not try to act on his own.

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GREG ABBOTT: The president's job is to execute the laws, not de facto make law by suspending parts of laws that are passed by Congress.

HORSLEY: Texas and 17 other states have filed a lawsuit saying Obama overstepped his authority by granting temporary relief from deportation to millions of immigrants living in the country illegally. Law Professor Stephen Legomsky, who used to be chief counsel for the agency that oversees immigration, disagrees saying, Obama is simply doing what other presidents have done. He says there will still be far more people eligible for deportation than the government can afford to remove.

STEPHEN LEGOMSKY: Congress, year after year, has knowingly appropriated enough resources to go after only a small fraction of this population. And to me, that's the clearest evidence yet that Congress intends for the administration to use its discretion.

HORSLEY: Abbott complains that allowing immigrants to come out of the shadows imposes real cost on his state's tax-payers. The new policy covers up to 4 million immigrants - many with children who were born in the U.S. or hold green cards.

ABBOTT: That's not prosecutorial discretion. That is a rewriting of the law that Congress wrote.

HORSLEY: In announcing the lawsuit, Abbott promised to use the president's own words against him. For much of last year, Obama himself argued he did not have the authority to halt such a large number of deportations. Then, last week, after he changed his mind, Obama said this to a pro-immigration heckler in Chicago.

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OBAMA: I just took an action to change the law.

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HORSLEY: White House spokesman Josh Earnest insists Obama didn't mean to say he'd changed the law by himself - just the manner in which the executive branch is applying it.

JOSH EARNEST: There is a long track record of individuals in every branch of government indicating that the executive actions the president announced are clearly within the confines of the law.

HORSLEY: Texas and the other states are challenging that argument before a federal judge in Brownsville, Texas. Meanwhile, the White House is reaching out to the public as well as the courts. Obama told an education summit, here in Washington, more deportations are not the answer.

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OBAMA: The immigration issue is, I recognize, one that generates a lot of passion, but it does not make sense for us to want to push talent out rather than make sure that they're staying here and...

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OBAMA: ...And contributing to society.

HORSLEY: Obama plans to keep making that case when he speaks on immigration in Nashville next week. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.