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Obama immigration order: Does 'audacity of hope' mean unchecked presidential power?

President Obama’s order deferring deportation of up to 800,000 young illegal immigrants shows a president dealing with a recalcitrant Congress by ignoring it. Is he reshaping the power of the presidency?

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"Right to Dream" students and supporters block the street outside the federal Metropolitan Detention Center Friday in Los Angeles to celebrate the Obama administration's decision to stop deporting younger illegal immigrants.

Nick Ut/AP

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Faced with a Republican Congress that seems stubborn to a fault and content to see Obama fail, America’s chief executive has decided to grab what some are calling an unprecedented rein on executive prerogative in order to move his political objectives down the field.

His supporters say it’s part of the President’s “audacity of hope” campaign message, exemplified by Friday’s decision to relax immigration rules for young illegal immigrants – a necessary antidote, supporters contend, to political polarization, stalemate, and gridlock in Washington.

As with other Obama decisions to ignore parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, not prosecute medical marijuana, and allow some states to opt out of No Child Left Behind provisions, the immigration order became perhaps the boldest decision yet by a president seeking reelection, critics say, to ignore laws passed by Congress in order to achieve a political objective, setting a troubling precedent for the power of the presidency.

Could you pass a US citizenship test?

In some ways, it’s part of the evolution of an “imperial Presidency,” a term used by historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.  to describe Richard Nixon’s challenges to traditional checks and balances. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, also used a broad definition of presidential power to issue so-called signing statements where he declared parts of new laws unconstitutional and thus unenforceable by the commander-in-chief.

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