This video is from the White House web site, and covers a Q&A on September 28, 2011. The president telegraphs today’s policy shift, while acknowledging that he cannot really do what he has done.
THE PRESIDENT: I just have to continue to say this notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true. We are doing everything we can administratively. But the fact of the matter is there are laws on the books that I have to enforce. And I think there’s been a great disservice done to the cause of getting the DREAM Act passed and getting comprehensive immigration passed by perpetrating the notion that somehow, by myself, I can go and do these things. It’s just not true.
Now, what we can do is to prioritize enforcement, since there are limited enforcement resources, and say we’re not going to go chasing after this young man or anybody else who’s been acting responsibly and would otherwise qualify for legal status if the DREAM Act passed.
But we live in a democracy. You have to pass bills through the legislature, and then I can sign it. And if all the attention is focused away from the legislative process, then that is going to lead to a constant dead-end. We have to recognize how the system works, and then apply pressure to those places where votes can be gotten and, ultimately, we can get this thing solved. And nobody will be a stronger advocate for making that happen than me.
The phrase “prioritize enforcement” is the fig leaf behind which the new policy hides.
Update: And here is President Obama in 2011, explaining in another forum why he cannot change the laws all by his lonesome.
Speculation time: The president and his staff may have forgotten that these comments were out there. They have not been good at anticipating how comments by Obama and other Democrats will be used against them. So they announce today’s policy shift, thinking that he will get nothing but kudos from the media and will probably generate some usefully heated rhetoric from those of us who care about border security. Instead, he got these words of his own thrown back in his face within 15 to 20 minutes of the initial policy leak. By the time Neil Munro of the Daily Caller tried to ask him a question at today’s statement, the president had already decided not to take or answer any press questions, fearing someone would bring the comments above up and ask him for comment. So he got a bit testy.