1. 2011 Univision town hall:
“There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply, through executive order, ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president,” he said.
2. 2011 speech to La Raza:
“I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own. Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. I promise you. Not just on immigration reform. But that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written.”
3. September 2011 during a roundtable with Latino reporters:
“I just have to continue to say this notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true,” he said. “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.”
4. In a 2013 Telemundo interview:
After discussing deferred action for DREAMers, he added: “But if we start broadening that, then essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that’s not an option.”
“I do get a little worried that advocates of immigration reform start losing heart and immediately think ‘Well– yeah, somehow there’s an out here, if Congress doesn’t act. We’ll just have the president sign something and that’ll take care of it and we won’t have to worry about it,’” Obama said.
5. Speaking to a heckler in 2013:
“If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so,” he said. “But we’re also a nation of laws. That’s part of our tradition. So the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws, and what I’m proposing is the harder path which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve.”
Bonus: What Obama is saying now
Speaking to the press on Saturday, November 16 2014, Obama dismissed the notion that he was changing his mind about executive action when confronted by reporters about the his past remarks:
“Well, actually, my position hasn’t changed,” he said. “When I was talking to the advocates, their interest was in me, through executive action, duplicating the legislation that was stalled in Congress. And getting a comprehensive deal of the sort that is in the Senate legislation, for example, does extend beyond my legal authorities.
“There are certain things I cannot do,” he added. “There are certain limits to what falls within the realm of prosecutorial discretion in terms of how we apply existing immigration laws.”