Las Vegas (AFP) - Obama urged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform as he used his weekly address Saturday to again defend his unilateral action shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
"I still believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together –- both parties –- to pass that kind of bipartisan law," Obama said in his weekly radio and television address, referring to a wide-ranging overhaul that had passed the Senate but was blocked in the House of Representatives.
"That bill would have secured our border, while giving undocumented immigrants who already live here a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line," the president said, speaking from the Las Vegas, Nevada high school where he launched his immigration reform efforts two years ago.
"But 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," he insisted.
Obama's controversial overhaul, praised by many immigration rights activists, provides three-year relief for millions of undocumented people who have lived in the country for more than five years and have children who are US citizens or legal residents.
According to the president, it also channels more resources to the US border with Mexico and shifts deportation priorities toward expelling felons.
Wasting little time, the president signed two elements of the orders on Friday.
Republicans have heaped scorn on the plan, calling it "executive amnesty," "illegal" and "unconstitutional," bringing tensions between Washington's warring camps to a boil.
Obama said he had "one answer" for critics who allege he overstepped his authority: "Pass a bill. The day I sign it into law, the actions I've taken to help solve this problem will no longer be necessary."
Meanwhile, he defended his reforms, saying "nothing about this action will benefit anyone who has come to this country recently, or who might try and come to America illegally in the future," and noting that it does not offer a path to citizenship.
"It’s certainly not amnesty, no matter how often the critics say it," he said.
"Amnesty is the immigration system we have today -- millions of people living here without paying their taxes, or playing by the rules."