Obama Announces Plan to Shield 5 Million Immigrants from Deportation

In a prime-time address to the nation on Thursday, President Obama described his plan to, and reasoning for, taking executive action on immigration—a move preceded by a six-year war-of-words with congressional Republicans that sets up a power struggle once the GOP takes full control of Congress next year.

Obama’s plan will protect up to five million of the nation’s 11.4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation. Approximately 4 million will be eligible for a new program of deferrals for the parents of American citizens or legal permanent residents (DAPA) who have lived in the U.S. continuously since before January 1, 2010. Eligible individuals would be granted authorization to work in 3-year intervals. They’d have to pass background checks and pay taxes and will receive Social Security cards. USCIS announced today this program will become effective on or after May 20, 2015.

Also expanded by Obama is the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which previously allowed young people brought to the U.S. as children prior to June 15, 2007 to apply for deportation deferrals and work permits. The new cutoff for presence in the US is January 2010, and the age limit of 31 was dropped. The deferral period also was increased from two years to three years. Around 300,000 more immigrants are expected to be DACA-eligible thanks to the new plan. USCIS announced today this program will become effective on or after February 20, 2015.

Neither of these deferral groups will be granted a green card or eligible for Affordable Care Act benefits.

Other parts of the plan are expected to extend deportation protection to an additional 1 million immigrants. The president’s executive action also addresses law enforcement priorities, with a focus on deporting criminals and national security threats, as well as visa and court procedures, according to The Atlantic.

“This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently,” said Obama during his speech. “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.”

In advance of Republican criticism of his executive action (which, as NPR points out, is different from a legally-binding executive order), Obama also had strong words for his opponents.

“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,” said the President. “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.

Republican criticism of the President’s plan came hours before Mr. Obama had even delivered his speech to the nation. In a YouTube message released Thursday, House speaker John Boehner said that, “The president had said before that he’s not king and he’s not emperor. But he’s sure acting like one.”

On Friday, Boehner said that Obama’s use of his executive authority was “damaging the presidency itself” and sabotaged “any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek.”

Republicans have vowed a number of actions—from defunding agencies to a government shutdown to impeachment—to counter what they claim is a “brazen power grab.”

But as Obama acknowledged in his speech, “The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every Democratic president for the past half-century.”

Presidential executive orders, in fact, date back to George Washington. And since 1956, according to the American Immigration Council, every president—including Republican hero Ronald Reagan—has provided some form of temporary relief for certain immigrant groups. Furthermore, a USA Today report highlights how Obama’s immigration speech was based on George W. Bush’s 2006 immigration speech.

Far from extreme, the President’s plan simply allows, as he said, some five million people to “come out of the shadows.”

But the fight over immigration is far from over, both in the government and among activists.

“This is a long term-struggle,” said Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream. “We will continue organizing until our entire community can come forward and enjoy the full rights of citizenship.”

If you have questions about the present’s new executive actions on immigration and how they impact you or your family in the US, please contact Denver lawyer Catherine Brown, at 303-322-2117.