The White House on Tuesday would not categorically rule out future executive actions to address immigration, while continuing to maintain "there is not" anything the president could do in lieu of congressional action on comprehensive reform.
“I don’t want to speculate about what sort of actions the president might or might not take," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
Obama has come under pressure from immigration activists, who have challenged the president to act unilaterally now that a comprehensive immigration bill appears stalled in the House. The president was heckled twice during events in San Francisco on Monday while discussing immigration reform, with protesters each time demanding an end to deportations via executive order.
In 2012, the Obama administration announced it would stop deporting some illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children, assuming they met certain criteria.
But the White House has maintained that path is not feasible for the nation's entire immigrant population, arguing, as Obama did Monday, that the issue must be addressed legislatively.
"If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so," Obama told one of the hecklers who interrupted his speech at the Betty Ong Chinese Recreation Center. "But we’re also a nation of laws. That’s part of our tradition. And so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws."
But while the White House has ruled out a sweeping halt to deportations, it is unclear whether Obama could use his executive authority, which includes the ability to grant temporary work permits, to help some of those here illegally.
Still, Earnest stressed that the White House believed congressional action was the only way to fully address the issue.
“We have been very clear that the problem that the president is trying to solve here is one that can only be solved with the Congress, and that problem is an immigration system that everybody acknowledges is broken," he said.