"The president does have the authority and the ability to ease the crisis on the ground while the legislative process continues to play out," Ana Avendano, director of immigration and community action at the AFL-CIO, said in an interview.
Advocates point to a June 2011 memo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that provided guidance on using prosecutorial discretion in carrying out the nation's immigration laws. The discretion applied to a range of steps that officers, agents and lawyers could take in enforcing the laws, such as deciding whom to stop and arrest or whom to release.
Advocates contend the memo gives immigration authorities flexibility to target only criminals for deportation but that the administration continues deporting noncriminals as well.
About 370,000 people were deported last year, down from more than 409,000 people in 2011. The Homeland Security Department received money to remove about 400,000 a year, but the government decides who those people are. Hirsoshi Motomura, a law professor and immigration law expert at UCLA, said Obama could decide, for instance, to provide deferred action to groups of people described as low priorities in previous discretion memos issued by former ICE Director John Morton.
Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement that Obama has a "credibility gap" on immigration, imploring Congress to pass legislation while his administration implements its deportation policy.
"The president can do more, and he knows it," Alvarado said.
Traveling with Obama in California, a White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, did not rule out more executive actions. That prospect unnerves Republicans who point to Obama's unilateral changes to the health care law, such as delaying some requirements and enrollment deadlines.
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.
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