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Obama appears to rule out acting on his own on immigration

By Tom Cohen, CNN
  • The president attends a second White House meeting on immigration in 10 days
  • Obama "cannot unilaterally change the law," the White House says in a statement
  • Reform advocates want Obama to implement parts of a defeated immigration bill
  • Actresses Eva Longoria attends Thursday's meeting

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama on Thursday appeared to rule out acting on his own to implement some provisions of an immigration reform bill that failed to win congressional approval last year.

A White House statement issued after Obama met with "influential Hispanics" from across the country said the president noted that Congress must pass legislation to "fix what's broken about our immigration system, and that he cannot unilaterally change the law."

Some immigration reform advocates have argued that Obama could issue an executive order or take other unilateral steps to bring changes intended to help children of illegal immigrants eventually gain U.S. citizenship.

For example, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, a leading supporter of immigration reform, told a March 31 news conference that Obama "has a number of avenues available to him under existing law with which he can instruct the U.S. government to prioritize the deportation of criminals and threats to our community and provide relief in pursuing the deportation of the vast majority of immigrants who are assets to our communities."

Gutierrez called for people to petition Obama "to stop the deportations of the families of U.S. citizens, young people who should have been legalized" via the so-called DREAM Act defeated by a Republican filibuster in the Senate last December after winning passage in the House.

However, actress Eva Longoria, who attended Thursday's meeting, told reporters afterwards that it wasn't a matter of Obama being able to act on his own.

"We like to blame Obama for the inaction, but he can't just disobey the law that's written," Longoria said. She urged Latinos to register to vote and make their voices heard about immigration and other issues.

It was the second White House meeting on immigration in 10 days, following an April 19 gathering that Obama held with government, business, political and religious leaders from around the country.

Statements issued by the White House after each meeting expressed Obama's disappointment that the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act fell short of overcoming the GOP filibuster. Thursday's statement included the sentence that Obama "cannot unilaterally change the law," which was not part of the April 19 statement.

In both statements, Obama encouraged efforts to generate community-based pressure on Congress to pass immigration reform, but Thursday's statement had a sharper tone.

"More voices are needed to elevate the immigration debate beyond the politics, false debates, and rhetoric that have dominated the issue," it said.

"The president urged meeting participants to help elevate the debate, and to reach out in their unique capacities and in a public way to forge partnerships across sectors and across demographics," the statement continued. "There was broad agreement that more voices are needed to change the tone of the debate so that Congress acts to fix the broken system in a way that upholds America's history as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants."

With Republicans now controlling the House and holding a stronger minority in the Senate, the chances for any comprehensive immigration reform are considered non-existent in this Congress.

The DREAM Act would offer legal standing to immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children under the age of 16 and have lived in the country for at least five years.

Other requirements include graduating from high school or obtaining a General Education Development diploma and demonstrating "good moral character."

Even then, only a six-year conditional status would be awarded. Before moving to the next phase, the students would need to meet additional requirements -- attending college or serving in the military for at least two years, and passing criminal background checks.

Proponents, such as Obama and Democratic leaders, say the bill would give legal standing to young people brought to the United States who have bettered themselves and served their new country.

Republican opponents called the measure an amnesty that would signal to the world that the United States was not serious about enforcing its laws or its borders.

CNN's Jamie Crawford and Catherine Shoichet contributed to this story