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Obama Isn't Alone In Using Executive Action On Immigration

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Pres. Obama will address the nation tonight and announce a series of executive actions to change immigration policy. His measures would grant a temporary reprieve from deportation for as many as 5 million people.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Elsewhere in the program, we heard reaction from Rep. Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho. Now we'll hear from Dem. Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. He's chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Congressman, welcome to the program.

CONGRESSMAN LUIS GUTIERREZ: Happy to be with you.

BLOCK: We heard your colleague Congressman Labrador call this executive action by the president illegal. He pointed out that Pres. Obama himself has been saying for several years now that he does not have the constitutional authority to do what he'll be doing tonight. What do you say to that?

GUTIERREZ: Well, first of all, I want to congratulate the president of the United States. I think the decision he's going to announce tonight is a bold decision - a generous one. And he's obviously acting quickly. He set aside political consideration, and he's moving forward. Clearly, Raul Labrador's a better lawyer than that. I think he put his political hat on and is not using that legal degree that he has as well as he can. Every president since Eisenhower has used some element of prosecutorial discretion to protect certain groups of immigrants from deportation and to protect them until the law catches up. Ronald Reagan did it, and George Bush - the son and the father - did it. Every president since has done it, so it's not anything unprecedented.

BLOCK: When you're talking about Pres. Reagan, though, he signed a bill that had been passed by the Congress. This is not a bill that's been passed by Congress, obviously. Is there some hypocrisy in Pres. Obama having said before, look, I cannot do this. It's not within my constitutional authority to do what you are asking me to do, and now doing that same thing?

GUTIERREZ: Look, I spoke to the president of the United States. And listen, he said, Luis, I can't do what the Senate does. That's what you want me to do, Luis. You want me to cover everybody that's under the Senate bill. I can't. I don't have the constitutional authority to do that. And I think that's what the president was speaking about - number one. Number two - it's clear the president wanted so badly to work with the Republican House of Representatives and the minority in the Senate and sign a bill in a bipartisan legislative process that he just blocked out any consideration of any other avenues towards success. It was not until Speaker Boehner, a year after the Senate has adopted the immigration bill - a 68-vote majority - many Republicans - he called the president of the United States. Speaker Boehner said in June, to the president, I'm not going to do anything. And the president turned around and said to him, you know, I told you at my State of the Union address if the Congress doesn't act, I'm going to use my pen.

BLOCK: Let me ask you this. Let me ask you this. You have heard from Republicans, though, that by taking executive action, as he has, in this lame-duck session, that Pres. Obama is poisoning the well - that now there is no incentive for Republicans to try to work toward any bipartisan agreement on immigration. We heard Congressman Labrador said, look, we should now hold up nominations. We should tie up funding - that this will basically backfire in every possible way.

GUTIERREZ: I just want to say this. So the Republican majority is against millions of workers in the United States that are undocumented registering with the government, going through a criminal background check, getting right with the law, getting a work permit, paying all their back taxes and paying taxes moving forward with no government assistance whatsoever. They've got to pay for their...

BLOCK: Well, no, wait - I think what he would say - and I'm speaking for him here - is that he would say, that is not true, Congressman Gutierrez. What I object to is the way that Pres. Obama's going about this. Maybe we agree on the end, but we do not agree on the means.

GUTIERREZ: Then you have a majority, Senior Raul Labrador. You have a majority. You had one now for the last 23 months. Do something with it - act. The problem that they have is they can't be for anything that Barack Obama's for. Listen, if there was a drought affecting America, and Obama had a solution to it - had all the water in the universe - they'd say, no, don't open the tap. We don't want anything from you. That's the problem that we have.

BLOCK: Congressman Gutierrez, thanks for talking with us.

GUTIERREZ: You're always welcome.

BLOCK: That's Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.