Obama Announces Executive Action on Immigration
President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he would take executive action to allow millions of undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria to remain legally — but temporarily — in the United States.
“For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from other nations has given us tremendous advantages,” Obama said as he began his White House address (full transcript here).
Although he noted that “illegal border crossings have been cut in half” in recent years to “their lowest level since the 1970s,” Obama acknowledged that “our immigration system is broken, and everyone knows it.”
Obama blamed congressional Republicans for obstructing meaningful immigration reform legislation before announcing he would take executive action to address the issue.
“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,” said Obama.
Obama unveiled a three-point plan:
“First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over,” he said.
“Second, I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed,” he continued.
“Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country,” he added.
“Undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace opportunities see little option but to remain in the shadows or see their families torn apart,” said Obama, lamenting “families being torn apart” through deportations, which have reached all-time highs during the president’s tenure.
But Obama added that “we are a nation of laws,” and vowed to hold those who have entered the country illegally accountable, “especially those who may be dangerous.”
“That’s why, over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 percent,” said Obama. “And that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. 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.”
Acknowledging that “tracking down, rounding up and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic,” Obama announced he would “offer the following deal”:
“If you’ve been in America more than five years, if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents, if you register, pass a criminal background check and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation,” he said. “You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”
Obama stressed that his plan is not an amnesty.
“This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future,” he said. “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.”
Addressing critics who might call his plan ‘amnesty,’ Obama countered that “amnesty is the immigration system we have today.”
“[Amnesty] is leaving a broken system the way it is,” he stressed, calling his plan “a common sense, middle ground approach” to the problem.
The president urged Congress to pass an immigration reform bill.
“Americans are tired of gridlock,” said Obama. “What our country needs right now is a common purpose, a higher purpose.”
“Most Americans support the types of reforms I’ve talked about tonight, Obama asserted, even while implicitly recognizing that a significant number of Americans view undocumented immigrants as a drain on society.
“These people, our neighbors, our classmates, our friends, they did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life,” he said. “They came to work, and study and serve in our military. And, above all, contribute to American success.”
He asked: “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 together to keep them together?”
Waxing biblical, Obama said that “Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.”
“We are and always will be a nation of immigrants,” he concluded. “We are here only because this country welcomed [immigrants] in.”
Republican lawmakers reacted to the president’s speech with swift condemnation, Fox News reports.
“While House Republicans will still work to do everything we can to move the country forward, it is our obligation and responsibility to fight this brazen power grab that doesn’t solve the real problems,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said in a statement.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) accused Obama of ignoring the will of the American people, adding that the president has “squandered what little credibility he had left.”
“His ‘my way or the highway’ approach makes it harder to build the trust with the American people that is necessary to get things done on behalf of the country,” said Boehner. “Republicans are left with the serious responsibility of upholding our oath of office. We will not shrink from this duty, because our allegiance lies with the American people.”
But Democratic lawmakers praised Obama’s plan. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) lauded the president’s “bold action.”
“Democrats will continue to demand action on bipartisan immigration legislation that will provide lasting certainty to immigrant families, and secure the billions of dollars in economic benefits Republicans’ inaction has denied our country,” said Pelosi.
Former Secretary of State and presumed 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also applauded the president’s speech.
“Thanks to POTUS [president of the United States] for taking action on immigration in the face of inaction. Now let’s turn to permanent bipartisan reform,” tweeted Clinton.
Undocumented immigrants also welcomed the imminent changes.
“We’re going to leave the darkness,” said Citlali Gomez, a 34-year-old Mexican who illegally entered the US 12 years ago and subsequently started a family. “We’re going to stop being scared,” Gomez told the Los Angeles Times at a rally in front of the Mexican consulate in downtown Los Angeles.
“Finally,” rejoiced Martha, a 27-year-old engineering student from El Salvador who did not qualify for deportation relief under Obama’s previous plan because she entered the country at age 17, and relief was only extended to those who came at 16 or younger. Martha will now likely be permitted to stay under Obama’s new rules.
“This means I’m going to be able to get an internship,” she told the Times. “This means I’m going to be able to get a real job.”
Tagged Democrats immigration, deportation, Hillary Clinton immigration, immigration, immigration reform, John Boehner immigration, Kevin McCarthy immigration, Nancy Pelosi immigration, Obama immigration speech, President Barack Obama, Republicans immigration, undocumented immigrants