Breitbart.com is incorrectly claiming that Loretta Lynch “undercut the legal argument” supporting President Obama's executive action on immigration, when in reality she did no such thing.
On January 28, Lynch appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her confirmation hearing to become the next attorney general of the United States. Lynch is widely considered by people on both sides of the aisle to be a well-qualified pick for the post, but she still faced tough questions from Senate Republicans who, as The New York Times put it, wanted “assurances she would break from some of the practices” of current Attorney General Eric Holder.
One line of questioning in particular centered around Lynch's thoughts on the legality of Obama's recent executive action on immigration that will defer deportation proceedings for some undocumented immigrants. Legal experts agree that the president's action, which will provide temporary administrative relief for certain undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who pass a background check, is "clearly within his discretionary power." Immigrants whose deportations are deferred under this form of prosecutorial discretion are then eligible to apply for work authorization permits and driver's licenses (depending on the state) -- a benefit that was not introduced by Obama, but rather is permitted under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Real ID Act of 2005, respectively.
Breitbart.com, a site that once spectacularly confused nominee Lynch with a completely different Loretta Lynch in its rush to smear her qualifications, made yet another error in reporting on the confirmation hearing. A January 28 post on Breitbart claimed that Lynch "[p]erhaps by accident" had “undercut the legal justification the president has given for his executive amnesty for millions of illegal aliens during her confirmation hearing.” Aside from incorrectly defining the president's immigration actions as “amnesty” -- a mistake that other conservative media figures like Fox News' Megyn Kelly have avoided -- Breitbart homed in on an exchange between Lynch and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who asked about limitations on using prosecutorial discretion to prioritize deportations. Breitbart quoted Lynch's response:
I think that if a prosecutor were to come to the view that they had to prioritize one crime over another, you would always still want to retain the ability -- even if it was an area that was not an immediate priority -- if for example it became one. Because if a particular neighborhood was being victimized, or again to use your issue of speeding, there were deaths resulting from that. You would want to have the ability to, if you could, take resources and focus on that issue. It might not be the first priority but you would want to have the ability to go back and deal with that issue.
Breitbart went on to argue that, in her response, “Lynch effectively admits that what Obama has done with executive amnesty -- providing legal documentation and work permits for millions of illegal aliens, thereby legalizing their status in the United States -- far exceeds any reasonable definition of prosecutorial discretion. She also said that prosecutors should keep the door open to prosecuting an illegal action that isn't currently a priority if it becomes one eventually. So even if illegal immigration isn't a priority right now for whatever reason, prosecutors need to be able to go after that crime later.”
What she said does not “undercut” the policy at all. By definition, the executive actions (which are reversible themselves) that grant temporary administrative relief by deferred action “keep the door open” and allow law enforcement “to go after that crime later,” as Lynch stated. The hint is in the name of the actions, which Breitbart did not cite: the "case-by-case" Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs.
Given the fact that it would be impossible for law enforcement to deport every person currently living in the United States without the appropriate documentation, it is essential to prioritize some removals over others. Lynch's comments do not undermine the administration's position, which she said was "reasonable" -- they simply explain how prosecutorial discretion, such as DAPA and DACA, works in practice.