Obama’s immigration plan shields 5 million, to ‘deport felons, not families’

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President Barack Obama announces executive actions on U.S. immigration policy during a nationally televised address from the White House, November 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama outlined a plan on Thursday to ease the threat of deportation for about 4.7 million undocumented immigrants. (Photo by Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama is ordering the most sweeping overhaul of the immigration system in decades, despite Republican claims he is acting illegally by moving unilaterally to shield 5 million undocumented immigrants.

Obama rejected accusations by conservatives that he is offering a free pass to undocumented immigrants and warned in a prime-time address that he would bolster border security and make it harder for unauthorized outsiders to get into the country.

“Today our immigration system is broken and everybody knows it,” Obama said. “It’s been this way for decades and for decades we haven’t done much about it.”

Obama is pressing ahead and making broad changes to the immigration system without the consent of Congress, which has failed to pass a comprehensive reform bill. The announcement prompted an angry response from House Speaker John Boehner.

“By ignoring the will of the American people, President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left,” Boehner said. “Republicans are left with the serious responsibility of upholding our oath of office.”

A key element of Obama’s plan is to instruct immigration authorities to target those undocumented immigrants who are dangerous rather than law-abiding undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and residents and others.

He said they will go after “felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a Mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.”

“We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day,” he said.

The changes will offer those who qualify the chance to stay temporarily in the country for three years, as long as they pass background checks and pay back taxes. But they will not be offered a path to eventual citizenship or be eligible for federal benefits or health care programs. And, in theory, the measures could be reversed by a future president.

“If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up,” Obama said.

The President argued that ordering a mass amnesty would be unfair but mass deportation would "be both impossible and contrary to our character."

Republicans are slamming Obama's use of executive authority as a mammoth presidential power grab. But aides said the President was tired of waiting to act and felt compelled to go it alone because House Republicans refuse to vote on a bill to fix the broken immigration system that cleared the Senate more than 500 days ago.

"Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the President says he's acting on his own," Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in a YouTube video released before the president's speech. "The President has said before, that he's not king and he's not an emperor. But he's sure acting like one."

But Obama will say he is acting in a manner consistent with action taken by every Republican and every Democratic president in half a century.

"To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill."

Officials insist that Obama's moves are deeply grounded in law and constitutional precedent, despite claims by Republicans that they represent an unlawful overreach of his authority as president and his oath of office.

"The actions you see here reasonably sit within his powers," one senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the plans before the President speaks. "I think that they are bold and they are aggressive but they are in keeping with precedent."

Obama said he was acting in a manner consistent with action taken by every Republican and every Democratic president in half a century.

Officials insist that Obama's moves are deeply grounded in law and constitutional precedent, despite claims by Republicans that they represent an unlawful overreach of his authority as president and his oath of office.

"The actions you see here reasonably sit within his powers," one senior administration official said.

Congressional Republicans are weighing their response, juggling ideas that range from a government shutdown to holding up Obama's nominees in the Senate.

The most far-reaching changes in Obama's order will offer papers and work authorization to up to 4 million people who are undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, as long as they have lived in the U.S. for five years or longer.

Obama will also remove the upper age limit of 30 years old from a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Dreamers that allows those brought illegally to the country as children to stay, offering relief to thousands more people.

The program will cover anyone who arrived in the country before 2010 and will extend a previous two-year guarantee of relief to three years.

But White House lawyers concluded the president did not have the power to offer parents of those covered under DACA permits to stay in the country and work, a move that will disappoint some immigration reform lobby groups.

 

 

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