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Loretta Lynch: Undocumented Immigrants Could Still Face Deportation Under Obama's Executive Action

"I didn't see anything in the opinion that prevented action being take [against] individuals who might otherwise qualify" for deferred deportation, Lynch says.

Posted on January 28, 2015, at 12:41 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Undocumented immigrants covered by President Obama's executive actions delaying deportation could still find themselves targeted by the federal government, attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch said in her confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lynch, who is a federal prosecutor in New York, said that while she believes the Department of Justice has provided adequate legal justification for Obama's executive actions, she made clear it does not legally bind her hands.

"As a prosecutor I always want the ability to still take some sort of action against those who may not be in my initial category as the most serious threat. And I didn't see anything in the opinion that prevented action being take [against] individuals who might otherwise qualify for the deferral," Lynch said.

Under Obama's executive actions, most undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for an extended period of time and who are not violent criminals or felons can apply for a deferment of deportation. Those covered could then work legally in the United States.

Many people residing in the United States without proper documents are already leery of government — for instance, many undocumented immigrants don't report crimes against them out of fear of being deported. If undocumented immigrants believe DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security could decide to come after them in the future even if they qualify for the deferment program, it could make them less likely to apply.

Although Lynch spent much of the morning session, which is expected to last into the late afternoon or evening Wednesday, sidestepping specific pronouncements, Lynch did bluntly declare that waterboarding is torture "and thus illegal."

Significantly, Lynch also argued the "right" to work "is a right shared by everyone here in this country regardless of how they got here," though she was careful to not declare it a civil or human right.

Additionally, asked about the Obama administration's policy on marijuana legalization, Lynch said, "It is still the policy of the administration … to continue enforcing marijuana laws, particularly in respect to money laundering."

Lynch also said that if a state considering legalization came to DOJ for advice, she would warn them that, "federal laws will still be enforced."

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