U.S. President Barack Obama plans to bypass Congress and announce executive action on immigration.
The White House says Obama will address the nation Thursday on what it says are the details of his plan to fix a broken system.
It is expected to include protection from deportation for as many as 5 million illegal immigrants, who will also be made eligible for work permits, but not federal benefits such as health care tax assistance.
The move would also cover parents and spouses of current U.S. citizens.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president’s action will boost security at U.S. borders, strengthen the economy, and let millions of people come out from hiding and comply with the law.
Some Republicans in Congress accuse the president of overstepping his authority, but spokesman Earnest says nearly every president from both parties as far back as Dwight Eisenhower took executive action to tackle problems with immigration.
The Senate, controlled by Democrats, passed bipartisan immigration reform, but Earnest says the country has been waiting for more than a year for a bill to come up for a vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Many Republicans say Obama and the Democrats in effect will grant amnesty to lawbreakers – calling this unfair to those who have been trying to legally emigrate to the United States.
Obama’s initial reluctance
The president has long supported a comprehensive overhaul of the country’s immigration regulations. But in numerous public statements, he has said that he could not act unilaterally on immigration.
At one point last year, he said, “I’m the president of the United States. I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed, and Congress right now has not changed what I consider to be a broken immigration system.”
But Obama has grown increasingly frustrated at Congress’ failure to reach agreement on immigration changes. He spelled out his reasons for acting unilaterally at a news conference on his trip to Asia last week, saying the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, led by Speaker John Boehner, has had ample time to vote on a measure approved by the Senate more than a year ago.
“I indicated to Speaker Boehner several months ago that if in fact Congress failed to act, I would use all the lawful authority that I possess to try to make the system work better,” he said. “And that’s going to happen.”
Boehner said in a tweet Wednesday that Obama on 22 occasions has commented in one way or another that “he couldn’t do what he’s about to do.”
Showdown with Republicans
The executive order, which would please Hispanic political activist, would set up a showdown between the White House and Republicans in Congress.
The order would give relief from deportation to millions of undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens or of permanent legal residents, a source familiar with White House deliberations told Reuters.
It was not yet clear which parents of citizens or permanent residents would be included, said the source, who asked not to be identified. The Obama administration has been looking at options including those parents who have been living in the United States for five years or 10 years.
One report also suggests the executive order would broaden assistance to undocumented residents who were brought to America as children.
Republicans are vehemently opposed to the president’s likely actions, with some conservative members threatening to pursue a government shutdown if Obama follows through on his promises to act on immigration before the end of the year.
The announcement omes as White House chief of staff Denis McDonough is scheduled to meet with Senate Democrats on Thursday. McDonough is likely to be pressed on the immigration issue in the closed-door luncheon.
Numerous Republican lawmakers are criticizing the Democratic president’s prospective immigration changes, saying that undocumented immigrants should not be rewarded for entering the country illegally. They say that letting the immigrants stay in the United States amounts to an amnesty for law-breaking.
Democrats demand action
Democrats, including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have been urging Obama to move quickly on immigration.
Some have pointed to his failure to take executive action on the issue as costing Democrats votes in this month’s congressional elections and setting up a Republicans sweep of congressional election earlier this month.
Obama has warned Republicans in Congress that he would act unilaterally if they continue to block comprehensive immigration legislation.
Earlier this year, a reform measure passed a Senate vote but was rejected by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Obama also is expected to stress that he wants to focus efforts on deportations of illegal residents with serious criminal backgrounds.
On Friday the president is expected to visit Las Vegas, Nevada, to speak at Del Sol High School, where he laid out his principles for immigration reform two years ago.
A Pew Research Center study released this week found that the state of Nevada has the nation’s highest proportion of illegal immigrants.
Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.