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President Obama has decided to wave off Republican warnings of retribution and move ahead with his plan for executive action to overhaul the immigration system and grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants in the country who are threatened by deportation.
Various news sources reported Thursday that the president will announce as soon as next week an executive order to suspend deportations for up to five million undocumented immigrants from and provide many with work permits.
Quoting unnamed administration officials, The New York Times said the president would order changes that would “significantly refocus the activities of the government’s 12,000 immigration agents.”
WHY THIS MATTERS
President Obama’s apparent decision to move ahead with immigration reform by executive order risks a showdown with the newly elected Republican leaders in Congress – which may dash any lingering hopes for bipartisan deals on other issues in the post-election session and in the 114th Congress. But for millions of illegal immigrants and their families, Obama’s action, which could come as early as next week, would lift the threat of deportation and allow them to come out of the shadows.
As part of a 10-part overhaul, the action would permit numerous parents of children “who are American citizens or legal residents to obtain legal work documents” without fear of being discovered. That action alone potentially could impact 3.2 million people or more who have been living in the U.S. for at least five years.
The report came within hours of Senate Republicans unanimously electing Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader in the coming 114th Congress – likely setting the stage for a bruising face-off between the newly elected Republican majority and a president still smarting from the Democrats’ debacle in last week’s midterm elections.
McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) warned Obama at a White House meeting last Friday that issuing the executive order before a new Republican Congress had an opportunity to address the immigration crisis was a nuclear option – one that would destroy any prospects for bipartisanship in the lame-duck session of Congress and beyond. “Moving forward with the unilateral action on immigration he’s planned would be a big mistake,” McConnell said this week.
He compared executive action on immigration to “waving a red flag in front of a bull.” Don Stewart, McConnell’s press secretary, said earlier today that McConnell was serious about an executive order on immigration having grave consequences.
“During the meeting at the White House, they [GOP leaders] told the president this will do serious damage, but he doesn’t care,” Stewart said.
White House officials said details of the executive actions were still being drafted ahead of Obama’s return on Sunday from an eight-day trip to Asia, according to The Times.
The Democratic Senate last year passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform package that tightened security along the border, relieved millions of illegal immigrants from the threat of deportation and offered many a long-term path to citizenship. But the Republican controlled House is sorely divided over the issue, and Boehner refused to bring the Senate-passed bill to the floor for a vote.
Obama threatened last June to move ahead with executive action by the end of the summer, but later put that off until after the election at the behest of many Democratic candidates who feared it would hurt their reelection chances.
An announcement could be pushed off again until next month but will not be delayed into next year, officials told The Times.
“Before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system,” Obama said during a news conference a day after last week’s midterms. “What I’m not going to do is just wait.”
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