Dem: Obama should consider stopping all deportations of illegal immigrants

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) stands with the children of deported illegal immigrants at an immigration reform rally. Anne Wernikoff

President Obama "has the responsibility to act" to stop deportations of illegal immigrants if Congress proves unable to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) argued Friday.

"There are devastating effects if the Congress of the United States cannot enact comprehensive immigration reform – then the president of the United States has the responsibility to act to defend those immigrants which he says he wants to provide safety and justice for," Gutierrez told Salon.

In 2012, the Obama administration announced it would stop deporting some illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children if they enrolled in either college or the military and did not break any laws. 

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Gutierrez said the president should "definitely look at" expanding that policy to all 11 million immigrants who have entered the country illegally, if efforts to reform the nation's laws remain stymied in the Republican-controlled House.

"I think that those who call on the President of the United States to re-evaluate his actions on the dreamers and expand it – I think that’s something the President of the United States should definitely look at, and begin to evaluate how he brings that about," he said. "I think he should think about that."

In an interview with Telemundo in September, the president said that advocates of immigration reform shouldn't expect him to use prosecutorial discretion to address the issue if Congress is unable to agree to reform legislation.

Obama said doing so would mean "essentially … ignoring the law" and would be "very difficult to defend legally."

"So that's not an option," he added. "And I do get a little worried that, you know, advocates of immigration reform start losing heart and immediately thinking, 'Well, yeah, somehow there's an out here, if Congress doesn't act, we'll just have the president sign something, and that'll take care of it, and we won't have to worry about it.' "

Instead, the president has focused his efforts on pressuring the House to adopt legislation similar to a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in June. In a speech from the White House on Thursday, Obama said it was up to Republicans in the lower chamber "whether this becomes a reality or not."

“This is not just an idea whose time has come; this is an idea whose time has been around for years now,” Obama said. “It's good for our economy. It’s good for our national security. It's good for our people, and we should do it this year.”

Later in the day, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough met with business leaders who support immigration reform at the White House in an attempt to build momentum for the effort.