CAMBRIDGE, Md. -- President Obama told House Democrats on Friday that his executive power to help immigrants who are in the U.S. without legal status is limited and urged them to keep pressing for legislation to overhaul the immigration system.
"Don't take your foot off the pedal," the president said in remarks to a closed-door meeting of his Democratic allies, who were gathered for the party's annual issues retreat on the Eastern Shore.
Hopes have substantially dimmed for immigration law changes this year after House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) downplayed the chances that the chamber's Republican majority would take up legislation before the midterm elections.
As Republicans slow-walk an issue that is a top priority for Latinos and other minority voters, pressure has mounted on the White House to take administrative steps to cut back on deportations of immigrants in the country without legal status.
During a question-and-answer session at the retreat, lawmakers asked the president what more the administration could do, according to an aide in the room granted anonymity to discuss the private meeting. Many immigrant advocates want the White House to build on the steps Obama ordered in 2012, when he announced a halt in deportations of young immigrants who are in school or the military.
But Obama sought to lower expectations, saying people needed to understand that there were "outer limits to what we can do by executive action," according to the aide.
One question, posed by Rep. Brad Sherman of Sherman Oaks, was whether the administration could take steps to help the parents of young immigrants brought to the country as children, who are often called Dreamers because of past legislation that would fast-track their route to citizenship.
Another Californian, Rep. Juan Vargas of San Diego, asked Obama to consider how deportations were carried out to protect families, the aide said.
The president said he remained optimistic that immigration reform would be accomplished, drawing applause when he suggested it was "not a question of if, but when."
Memoli reported from Cambridge and Mascaro from Washington.
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