After six years of often bitter back-and-forth with congressional Republicans over the issue of immigration, President Obama announced he has decided to go it alone by temporarily shielding up to 5 million immigrants from being deported.
In a prime-time speech to the country on Thursday, Obama said that he would defer the deportation of the parents of children who are either U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, and that he also would expand that protection to more “DREAMers,” or children who entered the country illegally with their parents. Those two groups also will be allowed to work in the United States legally, after passing a background check and paying a fee.
Obama said the executive action did not amount to amnesty, because it does not provide for a path to legalization.
Hitting back against Republican critics, he also defended the legality of his actions, saying every president in the past 50 years has taken similar steps.
“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. “I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.”
Even before Obama delivered his speech, congressional Republicans warned that this action would kill any chance of passing comprehensive immigration legislation. Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn took it a step further, warning of a political and social firestorm.
“The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation,” Coburn said in an interview with USA Today. “You’re going to see — hopefully not — but you could see instances of anarchy. … You could see violence.”
We live blogged the speech, so keep reading for a detailed version of events:
Update at 9:19 p.m. ET. ‘We’re Gonna Stay Together’:
Washington Post reporter Katie Zezima was at a watch party in Arizona with immigration activists. She’s been posting Vines that show an emotional reaction to President Obama’s executive action.
Astrid Silva, the young woman mentioned in Obama’s speech, cried as she told a reporter that her parents would not have to “live in fear” because her younger brother was a U.S. citizen.
Here’s video of Bianca Gamez, whose parents brought her into the country illegally when she was a child:
Update at 8:57 p.m. ET. ‘A Historic Victory’:
In a statement, Cristina Jimenez, the managing director of United We Dream, one of the organizations that has been pushing for immigration reform on behalf of “DREAMers,” called tonight’s announcement a “historic victory.”
She said that tonight’s executive action will result in 5 million people living “without fear.” But, she said, there are still too many who will live under threat of deportation.
“This is a long-term struggle,” Jimenez said. “We will continue organizing until our entire community can come forward and enjoy the full rights of citizenship.”
Update at 8:46 p.m. ET. Video Of The Speech:
Via the PBS Newshour, here’s video of Obama’s full 15-minute speech:
Update at 8:16 p.m. ET. An Appeal To American Exceptionalism:
To wrap up his 15-minute speech, President Obama did what he often does in major speeches: He appealed to American exceptionalism.
“Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too.
“My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.”
Update at 8:11 p.m. ET. A Bigger Debate:
After asking Congress not to shut down the government over this, Obama turns to the American public and asks them to remember that this is about a greater debate.
“It’s about who we are as a country, and who we want to be for future generations.
“Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?”
“Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?
“Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs, businesses, and industries right here in America?”
That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration; we need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.
Update at 8:08 p.m. ET. No Path To Citizenship:
“This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently,” Obama says. “It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive – only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.”
Update at 8:06 p.m. ET. Prioritizing:
Obama says he will direct law enforcement to focus their deportation efforts on criminals.
“That’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security,” Obama said. “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.”
Update at 8:04 p.m. ET. Congressional Inaction:
Obama says that this problem is best solved through legislation, but the House has refused to act.
“Until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President — the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me — that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just,” Obama said.
“Tonight, I am announcing those actions.”
Update at 8:03 p.m. ET. Touts Immigration Record:
President Obama touts his record on securing the U.S./Mexico border:
“When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Although this summer, there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our border, the number of such children is now actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years. Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts.”
Update at 8:02 p.m. ET. Immigration System Is Broken:
President Obama begins by telling the American people that the country’s immigration system is broken.
“It’s been this way for decades,” Obama said. ” And for decades, we haven’t done much about it.”
Update at 7:31 p.m. ET. The Fine Print:
We’ve outlined in broad terms what is included in Obama’s executive action. If you’re curious, here’s the fine print, according to the White House:
— The parents of legal permanent residents and U.S. citizens will be able to apply for temporary relief from deportation and a work permit if they have lived in the country for more than five years.
— Obama will expand his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to include any children who were brought to this country illegally before January 1, 2010. Before, the president had deferred the deportation of those born after 1981 who had entered the country before June 15, 2007.
— Neither of those two groups will be given a green card. Both of them will be able to get a Social Security card, but they will not be eligible for Social Security benefits.
— About 4 out of the 5 million estimated to qualify for deferred action will be parents of American children.
— On the enforcement front: The administration will now concentrate on deporting criminals and those who pose a threat to national security. This means an unknown number of immigrants may continue to live in the United States illegally but without the threat of deportation.
Update at 7:17 p.m. ET. Obama’s Turnaround:
One piece that is certainly worth a read is one published by The New York Times that outlines Obama’s turnaround on the issue of executive action.
In many public appearances, Obama said he did not have the legal authority to act unilaterally on the issue of immigration.
“If we start broadening that,” Obama said referring to an earlier executive action that deferred the deportation of young immigrants, “then essentially I’ll be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that’s not an option.”
The action that Obama will announce today very clearly expands on his earlier directive to suspend the deportation of DREAMERs, children who entered the country illegally with the parents.
Update at 6:51 p.m. ET. A ‘Middle Ground’:
The White House has released two excerpts of President Obama’s prime-time speech. In the first, he says that this approach is not amnesty. Instead, the president will say, leaving the system the way it is amounts to amnesty.
“Mass amnesty would be unfair,” Obama will say. “Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability — a commonsense, middle ground approach: 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 will also challenge Republicans who question the legality and wisdom of his executive actions by asking them to “pass a bill.”
Update at 6:17 p.m. ET. The Legal Authority:
In a briefing with reporters Thursday afternoon, a senior White House official explained the legal reasoning behind the two big actions.
First, the senior administration official said, the executive branch is given “prosecutorial discretion” by the constitution. That means the Department of Homeland Security can set enforcement priorities and can decide whom to deport.
Second, they say that providing relief to young undocumented immigrants and to the parents of U.S. citizen children is justified on humanitarian grounds.
The official said the action is predicated on a desire not to separate parents from kids who are lawful, and an understanding that’s a relationship Congress wants to respect.
The White House official pointed out that every president going back to President Dwight Eisenhower has used this kind of authority and President George H.W. Bush used his to give relief to 1.5 million children, about 40 percent of the undocumented population in the country at the time.
Rep. Raul Labrador, a Republican from Idaho, told All Things Considered, he believed this action is illegal.
The Department of Justice has released a memo that details the legal justification.
Update at 6:06 p.m. ET. Acting Like An Emperor:
Preempting Obama’s speech, Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, released a video statement criticizing the actions.
“Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he’s acting on his own. That’s just not how our democracy works. The president has said before that ‘he’s not king’ and he’s ‘not an emperor,’ but he’s sure acting like one. And he’s doing it a time when the American people want nothing more than for us to work together.”
Update at 6:02 p.m. ET. Relief For Others:
Senior administration officials said the Department of Homeland Security will also put out new guidelines for enforcement.
Immigration officials will prioritize the deportation of criminals and new arrivals, which means that some of the immigrants who don’t qualify for relief and have been in the United States for a while may never be deported.