AFRICANGLOBE – President Barack Obama will announce Thursday that he is shielding about 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, circumventing Congress to provide the most sweeping changes to immigration policy in decades.
Obama released a video Wednesday previewing his prime-time speech and his Friday trip to Las Vegas, where he will promote the executive actions he’s taking.
“Everybody agrees our immigration system is broken,” Obama said. “Unfortunately, Washington has allowed the problem to fester for too long. What I am going to be laying out are the things I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system work better, even as I continue to work with Congress.”
Senior administration officials began calling immigration reform proponents and lawmakers Wednesday to fill them in on plans for the rollout and the details of the proposal. Obama will host 18 Democratic lawmakers for dinner at the White House on Wednesday evening to brief them on his immigration plans. Invitees include Senate Democratic leaders Harry Reid (Nevada), Dick Durbin (Illinois) and Chuck Schumer (New York), lawmakers involved in immigration policy such as Sen. Robert Menendez (New Jersey) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (California), Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rubén Hinojosa (Texas) and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chairwoman Judy Chu (California), according to multiple congressional aides.
The executive actions will cover 4 million illegal immigrants who would qualify for deferred deportations by using criteria such as longevity in the United States and family ties, according to sources briefed on the discussions. An additional 1 million would receive protection through other means, two sources said.
There will be no special protections for farm workers or parents of Dreamers — two categories that groups had lobbied hard for — because there were concerns about those pieces clearing the legal bars, sources said. But, administration officials said in their calls, many people who fall into those categories would qualify if they have children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Dreamers, in contrast, are illegal immigrants who were brought to this country by their parents as minors.
A controversial enforcement program known as Secure Communities will be scrapped and replaced with a new program, the sources said. The executive actions are also expected to make modest changes to allow technology companies to keep high-skilled workers with green cards.
Top aides say that the president will go big.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday that the reforms the president puts forward will be “comprehensive.” Speaking at an event hosted by the New Democrat Network, a left-leaning think tank, Johnson said the president has “fairly wide latitude” to act under the law.
“He’s going to go as far as he can under the law,” Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz said Tuesday. Still, the administration acknowledges that there are limits to what he can do. “He’s going to be the first to say that it doesn’t fix everything that’s broken.”
The White House has not yet detailed its legal justifications for the president’s forthcoming actions, but press secretary Josh Earnest said it will release the administration’s argument on Thursday.
Dawn Le, of the Alliance for Citizenship, offered a hint at the timing in an email that the AFL-CIO’s Jeff Hauser forwarded to reporters before asking them to “ignore” the previous note.
“We hear there will be a prime time Thursday evening announcement (to preview) and full unveiling in Vegas on Friday,” Le wrote. “Unclear whether Thursday night content will be what is ‘celebratory,’ but Friday will be where we need a lot of energy guaranteed.”
Obama is making dual announcements — following up on the Facebook pre-announcement, which reached the feeds of 1.2 million people in the first hour after it was posted — because “the president wants to talk to as many Americans as possible about how he intends to move forward,” Earnest said.
The president’s turn to executive action comes after pushing House Republicans for more than a year to take up the immigration bill passed by the Senate in June 2013. Obama had long held out hope that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would bring the bill to the floor, but when the speaker told the president that he would not be holding a vote on it in 2014, Obama vowed in a Rose Garden speech to act on his own.
Obama had initially planned to announce executive actions on immigration at the end of the summer, but in September the White House said he would put off a final decision until after Election Day, amid Democrats’ concerns that it would create another complication on the campaign trail ahead of the midterm elections.
With a nine-day trip to Asia and Australia behind him and Thanksgiving on the horizon, Obama has spent this week working out the final details of his announcement. The trip to Las Vegas brings him full circle from January 2013, when he launched a push pressuring Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, repeating the mantra “now is the time.”
He spoke then at Del Sol High School, the same venue the White House has chosen for Friday’s announcement.
Republicans have been preparing to respond in large part by accusing Obama of overreach and by pointing to his repeated statements last year that he did not have the authority to act on certain pieces of immigration reform.
“If ‘Emperor Obama’ ignores the American people and announces an amnesty plan that he himself has said over and over again exceeds his constitutional authority, he will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for congressional action on this issue — and many others,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Wednesday.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wrote in an op-ed on Wednesday that if the president takes action, he “will not be acting as a president, he will be acting as a monarch” and that the Senate should respond by refusing to confirm all his nominees except those for critical national security positions. Congress should also limit the administration’s ability to enforce the president’s actions by funding agencies individually and restricting any spending related to immigration laws.
“If the president is unwilling to accepting funding for, say, the Department of Homeland Security without his being able to unilaterally defy the law, he alone will be responsible for the consequences,” Cruz said.
Initial Democratic responses are more positive.
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Wednesday that Obama’s action would put him in the company of “great” presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman, who both used their executive authorities to expand rights for African-Americans. “I think that President Obama ought to put himself alongside these … great presidents and use [an] executive order to do something big on immigration,” he said on MSNBC.
The legality of the president’s actions, Clyburn added, is up to the courts and not Congress. “Let’s let the courts decide whether it’s constitutional. That’s not for Congress to decide, that’s why we have courts to make that decision,” he said.
By: Carrie Budoff Brown, Seung Min Kim And Anna Palmer