Skip to Content

Programs:

136 Leading Experts on Immigration Law Agree: President Has Legal Authority to Expand Relief

Released on Wed, Sep 03, 2014

Washington D.C. — U.S. law professors sent a letter today to the White House stating that President Obama has wide legal authority to make needed changes to immigration enforcement policy. The president is considering how to use his authority to mitigate the damage caused by our dysfunctional immigration system and protect certain individuals from deportation.

The letter was written by Stephen H. Legomsky, John S. Lehmann University Professor at Washington University School of Law and former U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Chief Counsel; Hiroshi Motomura, Susan Westerberg Prager Professor at UCLA School of Law; and Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar at Penn State Law. It was signed by professors from 32 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

“As part of the administration’s legal team that ironed out the details of DACA, I can personally attest that we took pains to make sure the program meticulously satisfied every conceivable legal requirement,” said Legomsky. “In this letter, 136 law professors who specialize in immigration reach the same conclusion and explain why similar programs would be equally lawful.” (DACA is the acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program the president initiated in June 2012.)

In their letter, the law professors point out that “The administration has the legal authority to use prosecutorial discretion as a tool for managing resources and protecting individuals residing in and contributing to the United States in meaningful ways.” The letter goes on to explain that presidents from both parties have used prosecutorial discretion to prevent specific, and often large, groups of immigrants from being deported.

“Our letter confirms that the administration has specific legal authority to use prosecutorial discretion as a tool for protecting an individual or group from deportation,” said Wadhia. “This legal authority served as foundation for prosecutorial discretion policy across several administrations. Historically, this policy has been premised on the twin policy goals of managing limited resources and shielding people with compelling situations from removal.”  

This is the second major letter about prosecutorial discretion that law professors have sent to President Obama. The first letter, sent in 2012, outlined the legal argument for expanded administrative relief, which later became the blueprint for the president’s DACA program. That program allows qualifying noncitizens who came to the United States as children to apply for relief from deportation and work authorization.

“This letter reflects a clear, broad, and informed consensus on two key points,” said Motomura. “First, the president has the legal authority, exercising his discretion as the nation’s top immigration prosecutor, to establish enforcement priorities. Second, the president’s lawful discretion includes the authority to set up an orderly system, modeled on DACA, for granting temporary relief from deportation.”

A copy of the letter is available at: pennstatelaw.psu.edu/lawprofessorletter.

The National Immigration Law Center and the American Immigration Council  helped to distribute the White House letter. Recently, the American Immigration Council also released a report by Professor Motomura, “The President’s Discretion, Immigration Enforcement, and the Rule of Law,” which provides further legal and historical background on this issue.

To learn more about how President Obama can restore order to our dysfunctional immigration system, visit NILC’s Administrative Relief & Prosecutorial Discretion webpage.

# # #

For more information, contact Wendy Feliz at wfeliz@immcouncil.org or 202-507-7524

View Release