Senate Democratic leaders told President Barack Obama Monday that he should do as much as he can on his own to "improve" the broken U.S. immigration system.
"Like you, we are greatly disappointed and frustrated that House Republicans failed to take up immigration reform legislation," Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other Senate leaders wrote.
"The Senate-passed bill would overwhelmingly pass the House of Representatives," they wrote. "Because House Republicans have not acted, we fully support your decision to use your well-established executive authority to improve as much of the immigration system as you can."
Their letter rejected Republican arguments that Obama has no authority to act.
"[W]e know that you, like previous presidents, have broad executive authority to shape the enforcement and implementation of immigration laws," they wrote. "This authority includes exercising prosecutorial discretion to refine deportation priorities, deferring deportations on a case-by-case basis, and streamlining the legal immigration system."
As an example, it noted that Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush took action on their own to defer the deportation of 1.5 million spouses and children who, at the time, represented 40 percent of the population of illegal immigrants.
They also thanked Obama for his deferred deportation program for younger illegal immigrants, and said 600,000 have been approved for deferred deportation. They said Obama should expand this program for others who have "not committed serious crimes."
"Deportation relief will help the economy, American workers, and employers by increasing payroll tax revenues by billions of dollars," they wrote. "In addition, it will bring undocumented workers out of the underground economy, which undercuts wages and labor protections for Americans and gives unscrupulous employers an unfair competitive advantage."
Obama has pledged to move ahead on his own immigration plans despite warnings from Republicans that doing so would make it impossible for the two parties to work together in the new Congress.
The letter was signed by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Robert Melendez (D-N.J.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
Read the Senate Democratic letter here: