Defending his executive action giving work permits to some 4 million illegal immigrants, President Obama told ABC News's George Stephanopoulos Friday, "If you look, every president – Democrat and Republican – over decades has done the same thing as I mentioned in my remarks today. George H. W. Bush, about 40% of the undocumented persons, at the time, were provided a similar kind of relief as a consequence of executive action."
Problem is, as The Washington Post reports today, that claim is just plain false.
Obama reached his "40%" figure by using a New York Times article claiming that 1.5 million of the then-3.5 million illegal immigrants were eligible for Bush's 1990 "Family Fairness" program. That program granted deferred action status to the children and spouses of illegal immigrants that were given amnesty through the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
But Kessler dug up the Post's original reporting on the action which found that, at the time, the Bush administration estimated the number of illegal immigrants eligible for the program at 100,000. He also found that just 46,821 illegal immigrants ended up applying for benefits.
The 1.5 million figure is too fishy to be cited by either the White House or the media. ... it certainly was not a widely reported estimate in 1990. The number was buried in a single news article — and just because it was in the New York Times does not mean it was true.
To recap, the White House seized on an apparently inaccurate news report, which cited an estimate much higher than any other news organization. Meanwhile, officials ignored other contemporaneous reporting using much lower figures — as well as the actual outcome of the policy. That’s worthy of Four Pinocchios.
This "Four Pinocchio" falsehood is not just some off the cuff justification. It is at the very foundation of Obama's legal justification for his executive amnesty. The 1.5 million number is specifically cited by the White House Office of Legal Counsel memo defending the executive action.
Without Bush's 1.5 million, all of the other executive actions on immigration show that the "prosecutorial discretion" power has only been used for narrow relief provided to specific subsets of illegal immigrants in response to political or environmental disasters in their home countries.
Obama used to believe that it was beyond his power to use his "prosecutorial discretion" power to functionally rewrite the nation's immigration laws.
"Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. I promise you," Obama told the National Council of La Raza in 2011, "But that's not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That's not how our Constitution is written."
Obama was right in 2011. He is wrong now.