Boehner takes careful aim at Obama's deportation policy

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday questioned the constitutionality of President Obama’s decision to halt deportations of some younger undocumented immigrants and said it “has put everyone in a difficult position.”

In his first comments since the president’s announcement on Friday, Boehner spoke in measured tones as he criticized the policy move while voicing sympathy for the immigrants who will be helped by it.

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Obama’s decision, aimed at protecting hundreds of thousands of immigrant students who were brought to the United States illegally as children, is modeled on DREAM Act legislation that has been unable to pass Congress.

“I think the president’s announcement on immigration has put everyone in a difficult position,” Boehner told reporters after a closed-door GOP conference meeting. “I think we all have concerns for those who are caught in this trap, who through no fault of their own are here. But the president’s actions make it much more difficult for us to work in a bipartisan way to get to a permanent solution.”

The Speaker noted that Obama himself has said in the past he could not take action unilaterally to stop deportations, and some rank-and-file Republicans have threatened to sue the administration.

“The question remains whether he violated the Constitution,” Boehner said.

Yet Boehner’s comments reflect the political challenge Republicans face on the issue. The party is trying to win Hispanic voters alienated by the GOP’s hard-line stance on immigration in recent years. The Speaker did not call Obama’s move amnesty, and for the first time in recent memory, he spoke of the need for comprehensive immigration reform — a position many Republicans have abandoned after an attempt failed in Congress during the George W. Bush administration.

When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) first broached his bid to find a compromise on the DREAM Act earlier this year, Boehner pooh-poohed its chances of passing Congress this year. Obama’s policy is broadly similar to the Rubio plan but can be overturned by future administrations.

Boehner criticized Obama for choosing to steer the debate away from the economy, where he and other Republicans say the president’s policies have failed. “He’s turned to the politics of envy and division, which I don’t think the American people are going to accept,” Boehner said.

He added that Obama has made no serious effort to enact immigration reform during his time in the White House. “If we’re serious about dealing with the immigration problem, the first thing we ought to ask is 'where’s the president’s plan?' There is no plan,” Boehner said. “The point is we’ve got to do a comprehensive immigration reform plan that makes sure it secures our borders, enforces our laws, and fixes the problem of the 12 million illegals that are here in our country.”