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Was Obama’s move on immigration legal? Lawyers' memo makes the case

A memo by six immigration lawyers, written more than a year ago, argues that historical precedent supported Obama's authority to take action. Critics decry an effort to circumvent Congress.

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President Barack Obama prepares to pose for a family picture at the G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, June 18.

Henry Romero/REUTERS

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President Obama’s decree to allow certain illegal immigrants to remain in the United States follows broad historical precedent, according to a memo prepared by proponents of the president’s move.

While conservative critics allege that Mr. Obama’s executive action Friday impinges on congressional authority, they also allow that the president does have significant leeway to make such changes.

Written by six immigration lawyers, the April 2011 report details the rationale for the maneuver according to those who had been pressuring the White House to take such a step in meetings and briefings over the past year.

“The question has been, ‘Did [the president] have the legal authority?’ ” Sen. Bob Menendez (D) of New Jersey told reporters on Friday. “Could he ultimately produce an administrative relief that could be sustainable? I and others gave him examples of those administration reliefs that other presidents, Democrats and Republicans, had, and I’m glad to see that he has come to this conclusion.”

Obama's policies would allow certain illegal immigrants a renewable two-year deferral from deportation and make them eligible to apply for work authorization. Those affected are individuals who were less than 16 years old when they were brought to the US but are now under age 30; have lived in the US for at least five continuous years; are in school or have graduated from high school or are serving in the military; and have not been convicted of a felony or a significant misdemeanor.

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