Democrats Challenge Obama on Deportations

 (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

CAMBRIDGE, Md. — Behind closed doors here Friday morning, President Barack Obama told House Democrats challenging his deportation policies that there are limits to his executive authority.  

Multiple House Democrats challenged the president on his refusal to end deportations that are splitting up families. Advocates for legalizing immigrants here illegally have been seeking an executive order ending such deportations for years, and have renewed their push after Speaker John A. Boehner downplayed the chances the House would act on an immigration overhaul .  

According to sources in the room, Rep. Brad Sherman of California asked Obama what the White House could do to provide relief for the parents of so-called "DREAMers" — immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.  

Sherman clarified that he was asking Obama what he could do in the event the House does not act on an immigration overhaul bill this year.  

While Obama's administration has gone around Congress to give "DREAMers" relief from deportation, Obama pushed back on the idea of ending deportations for their parents, sources said.  

"[He said] it's very important that people understand that there are 'outer limits to what we can do by executive action,'" a Democratic aide said. "[He] cautioned that there are 'genuine limits to what we can do.'"  

"Don't take your foot of the pedal," Obama continued, imploring lawmakers to keep the pressure on House Republicans to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill this year.  

Rep. Juan C. Vargas of California also asked Obama what the administration planned to do about reunifying families fractured by deportations. According to the Democratic aide, Obama replied: "We have actively changed policy to focus on folks with criminal records [and] ... relieve burdens on families."  

Obama also noted that it was Congress, and not his administration, that allocated funding for new agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  

Despite the push-back from Obama, an aide said the president's remarks on immigration generally earned him a round of applause.