By Julia Edwards
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Tuesday defended the Obama administration's decision to allow millions of undocumented immigrants relief from deportation even as Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives said the move would encourage others to come.
Johnson spoke at a hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security that marked the first public airing of Republican resistance toward U.S. President Barack Obama's executive action, which is expected to allow 4.7 million undocumented immigrants to stay and work in the United States temporarily.
Johnson told the committee he personally recommended each action Obama took to shield the immigrants.
"The reality is that, given our limited resources, these people are not priorities for removal," Johnson said.
Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the committee, said the president's directive would be perceived as amnesty to those considering crossing the U.S. southern border.
"If we don't think that message is making its way back to Mexico and Central America, we are simply fooling ourselves," said McCaul. "We will see a wave of illegal immigration because of the president's actions."
McCaul said Obama did not have the legal authority to make the order.
Johnson defended the legality of the action, saying those who drafted the plan worked closely with the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and ruled out some options that lawyers warned they would not have the authority to implement.
(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)