Barack Obama taking executive action to protect five million illegal immigrants from deportation

Barack Obama taking executive action to protect five million illegal immigrants from deportation

US President Barack Obama is ordering far-reaching changes to the American immigration system that will protect nearly five million people from deportation, testing the limits of his presidential powers and inviting a showdown with newly emboldened Republicans.

Obama sought to break a stalemate in America’s long-simmering debate over immigration by cutting out Congress, setting up the first big confrontation with Republicans since they swept congressional elections earlier this month and ensuring that the contentious debate will carry on into the 2016 presidential campaign.

Obama planned to protect nearly five million immigrants living illegally in the United States from deportation by granting them work permits; millions more would remain in limbo.

In excerpts released by the White House ahead of a televised address, Obama said his executive actions were a “common sense” plan consistent with what previous presidents of both parties had done.

“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,” Obama said.

Republicans, who take full control of Congress in January after capturing the Senate from Democrats, warned that Obama would face serious consequences for what they described as an unconstitutional power grab.

“The president will come to regret the chapter history writes if he does move forward,” declared Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican who is soon to become the Senate majority leader, hours before Obama’s prime time address.

Republicans were united in opposing his move, but divided on how to respond. Lawmakers have raised options including lawsuits, a government shutdown and even impeachment. Party leaders are seeking to avoid a government shutdown, say such moves could backfire and anger voters ahead of the next presidential election in two years.

Republicans are in a bind over immigration: the US electorate is rapidly becoming more diverse, especially more Hispanic.

Republican leaders have said the party risks its long-term future if it does not act to solve America’s immigration problems. But many in the party’s conservative base oppose any reform that includes a path to citizenship for those who enter the country illegally.

The White House says the president is exercising his executive authority to tackle immigration reform unilaterally, as Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush did before him.

Obama, whose approval ratings have sagged, planned to sign a pair of presidential memorandums on Friday (local time) and travel to Las Vegas for an immigration rally.

Obama had been weighing potential executive actions for months. Administration officials said the new measures were aimed at keeping families together, and prioritising the deportation of serious criminals and people who recently crossed the border, not those who have spent years in the US.

The president’s broadest decree was expected to apply to about 4.1 million parents who are in America illegally but whose children are US citizens or permanent residents. If the parents have been in the US for at least five years, they could apply for protection from deportation and then for work permits, according to people briefed on the president’s actions in advance.

Obama was also expected to broaden a 2012 directive that deferred deportation for some young immigrants who entered the US illegally. He will expand eligibility to people who arrived in the US as minors before 2010, instead of the current cut-off of 2007, and will lift the requirement that applicants be under 31 to be eligible. The expansion is expected to affect about 300,000 people.

Despite the sweeping scope of the president’s actions, more than half of the 11 million immigrants living in the US illegally will be granted no specific protections. However, Obama’s orders aim to decrease the likelihood that many of them will be deported by ordering the Department of Homeland Security to focus its enforcement on those who have criminal histories or who recently crossed the border.

People briefed on the plan discussed the details on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to do so by name ahead of Obama’s address.

Obama also touted his efforts to bolster security at the US-Mexico border, and pledged to continue shifting resources to those areas and easing backlogs in immigration courts.

The president’s decision to act on his own follows months of partisan rancour in Washington over more comprehensive legislation. While the Senate passed a bill last year that would have allowed nearly everyone in the US illegally to pursue a pathway to citizenship, the Republican-led House of Representatives never took up the measure.

Now that Obama is acting on his own, some on the right are pushing to use must-pass spending legislation to try to stop Obama’s effort. One lawmaker has raised the spectre of impeachment.


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