Host George Stephanopoulos challenged the president on 2012 campaign comments that suggested he had run out of authority to stop deportations on his own.
"What is absolutely true is that we couldn't solve the entire problem and still can't solve the entire problem," Obama responded. "But what we can do is to prioritize felons, criminals, recent arrivals, folks who are coming right at the border, and acknowledge that if somebody has been here for five years, they may have an American child or a legal permanent resident child -- it doesn't make sense for us to prioritize them."
Stephanopoulos challenged Obama's defense that Republican presidents have used executive action to address immigration, noting that previous administrations exercised that authority only after Congress passed bipartisan bills.
Obama responded that those presidents implemented actions that went beyond the legislation that Congress had passed.
In a follow-up question, Stephanopoulos asked whether the next president should be able to use executive action to ignore tax laws and effectively lower taxes.
"The reason that we have to do proprietorial discretion in immigration is that we know that we are not even close to being able to deal with the folks who have been here a long time," Obama said. "Everybody knows, including Republicans, that we're not going to deport 11 million people."