Senior White House adviser David Plouffe insisted Sunday that President Obama’s decision to defer deportation of certain illegal immigrants who came to the country as children was "fully within" the president's authority and not made with the 2012 election in mind.
“This is not a political move. This builds on a lot of steps that we have already taken,” Plouffe said on the CNN program “State of the Union.”
But Plouffe said repeatedly that the move wasn’t politically motivated. “Who knows how the politics will turn out. But this decision was the right decision,” Plouffe said.
He also said the policy change was "fully within" Obama's powers, responding to critics who say the president is making selective decisions about which laws to enforce and making an end-run around Congress.
On Friday, the Obama administration announced it would stop deporting many illegal immigrants who came to the country at a young age. The policy, which could affect as many as 800,000 immigrants, would allow those under the age of 30 who have lived in the U.S. for five years, have no criminal history and either graduated from high school or served in the military to remain in the country.
While the decision does not grant citizenship to those immigrants, it does remove the threat of deportation and would allow them to work legally in the U.S.
After Obama announced the change to immigration policy, GOP Rep. Steve King (Iowa) said he intended to sue the administration. King, vice chairman of the House Immigration subcommittee, said that any such changes to immigration policy needed to come from legislative action and not executive decree.
Also appearing on Fox News, Plouffe said that the final step to immigration reform was passage of the DREAM act.
“This [announcement] is going to allow our law enforcement agency to focus on prosecuting criminals,” he said on Sunday. “The only permanent way to fix our immigration system is [through Congress.]”
He also said the presidential elections offered stark contrasts between the candidates Latino voters and the rest of the public.
“This is someone [Barack Obama] who believes that we are a nation of laws but also a nation of immigrants,” Plouffe said. “President Romney, if he is elected, is not going to fix our immigration system.”
Rachel Leven contributed
This story was updated at 10:36 a.m.