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Who should we believe?': Lawmaker accuses Obama of hypocrisy for flipping on immigration

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House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on Tuesday charged President Barack Obama with taking a confusing and hypocritical approach to immigration, by saying for years he couldn't act alone, and then acting alone after the midterm elections to give legal status and work authority to millions of illegal immigrants.

"It is confusing and it poses a bit of hypocrisy, I think, to the American people, because then after the election he reversed his course," McCaul told Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in a hearing.

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 10.15.59 AM House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) accused President Barack Obama of hypocrisy on Tuesday for moving ahead with his immigration action.
Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"Who should we believe?" McCaul asked. "The president before the election, who said he didn't have legal authority to take this action, or the president after the election, who says that he does have the authority to take this executive action?"

Republicans have railed against Obama's action, which could formally remove the threat of deportation for up to 4 million illegal immigrants, and let them apply for work permits.

That decision was made even though Obama had said for years he couldn't take these sorts of steps on his own. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Obama has said nearly two dozen times over the last few years that he cannot act alone on immigration

"[T]here are those in the immigrants' rights community who have argued passionately that we should simply provide those who are [here] illegally with legal status, or at least ignore the laws on the books and put an end to deportation until we have better laws," Obama said in 2010. "I believe such an indiscriminate approach would be both unwise and unfair."

"It would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no repercussions for such a decision," Obama added. "And this could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration."

"With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed," Obama said in 2011.

McCaul asked Johnson whether Obama's immigration action is legal, given these and other past statements from Obama. But Johnson said the executive actions are legal.

"I've looked at various excerpts of remarks by the president concerning his legal authority to act. I do not believe that what we have done is inconsistent with that," Johnson said.

"In fact, we spent a lot of time with lawyers, and we spent a lot of time with DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel," he added. "They wrote, what is in my judgment, a very thoughtful, 30-page public opinion on the available legal authority to act."

McCaul argued back that the move has "undermined our constitutional principles and our democracy" because it bypassed Congress.

Johnson also insisted that the executive action would not lead to a new wave of illegal immigrants, since it says people who arrive illegally in 2014 and later would become priorities for deportation. But McCaul rejected that argument and said human traffickers would almost certainly spin the action as another sign that the U.S. is weakening its border laws.

"You can't deny that the traffickers are going to message this," McCaul said. "I'm telling you it's going to happen, and this department needs to be ready for that to protect the nation from it, because it's coming. In my judgment, there's no question about it."

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