President Obama has announced that he will issue an executive order that would prevent millions of immigrants now in the U.S. illegally from being deported, but only temporarily and if they meet certain conditions, including registering with the government, passing a background check and paying what he termed their “fair share of taxes.”
The directive, which Obama announced on Nov. 20 in an evening address to the nation, also provides deportation protection only to those who have been in the U.S. for more than five years and those who have children who are U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents.
Individuals who satisfy the new requirements would be able to request “relief from deportation” and seek “work authorization,” but only for three-year periods, according to a White House summary of the not-yet-issued executive order
Construction industry groups, which have supported past efforts to produce wide-ranging legislative changes in the immigration system, said Obama’s executive order would hamper the effort to pass a comprehensive bill.
Geoff Burr, Associated Builders and Contractors vice president of government affairs, said in a statement “An abrupt, temporary executive action ultimately does more harm than good in fixing our broken immigration system.”
Burr said that the directive “jeopardizes a long-term fix that is workable for our economy and national security.”
Stephen E. Sandherr, Associated General Contractors of America CEO, said that “the president’s unilateral action on immigration unfortunately offers only a temporary solution while claiming to seek permanence.”
Sandherr added that “his action makes bipartisan [immigration] reform more difficult to achieve and likely endangers other legislative initiatives that require bipartisan solutions and cooperation between Congress and the administration.”
National Association of Home Builders Chairman Kevin Kelly said, “While President Obama’s executive action may provide relief for a portion of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S., this piecemeal approach to immigration reform is no long-term answer.”
Kelly said that legislation is the only way to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.
Terry O'Sulllivan, Laborers' International Union of North America general president, said that the union is pleased that the directive will help 5 million immigrant families, but expressed concern that its "temporary nature" will mean continued uncertainty for many immigrants.
O'Sullivan added, "The executive order is no substitute for real reform that provides a path to citizenship or a way to address future immigration that protects all workers." He also called for Congress to approve a comprehensive bill.
The gap between congressional Republicans and the White House seems to have widened.
In his speech, Obama criticized House Republicans for failing to vote on a 2013 Senate-passed comprehensive immigration bill.
For days before the president's announcement, GOP lawmakers blasted him for what they viewed as a major overreach of his authority.
The criticism continued after Obama’s speech. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “By ignoring the will of the American people, President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” who hammered out the compromise Senate immigration bill, said, “Congress has a responsibility to respond and push back on [Obama’s] illegal power grab.” That could include a court challenge, McCain said.
Obama, in his address, responded, “The actions I am taking are not only lawful, they’re the kind of actions taken by every single Republican president and every single Democratic president for the past half-century.”
He also said he wanted to find “a permanent legislative solution,” adding that when such a measure is enacted, the new directive “will no longer be necessary.”
Leading Democrats praised the announcement. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called it "bold action to bring our broken immigration system into line with our values as a people and our needs as a nation."
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, "Although this fix will be temporary, it will allow millions of people to live and work without fear and afford them the status to assert their rights on the job."
Trumka added that "while we stand ready to defend this program, we must also be clear that it is only a first step." He called for comprehensive changes in the immigration system, including "a path to citizenship and real protections for workers."
The new executive order will have multiple parts. Perhaps its key section is a new “deferred action program” that the Dept. of Homeland Security will establish for parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents “who are not enforcement priorities” and have lived in the U.S. for more than five years, according to a White House summary.
Those individuals will be able to “request temporary relief from deportation” and also seek “work authorization,” both for periods of three years at a time, the White House said.
They also must register, submit biometric data, pass background checks, pay fees and show that their child was born before Nov. 20, 2014.
The White House added, “By providing individuals with an opportunity to come out of the shadows and work legally, we will also help crack down on companies who hired undocumented workers, which undermines the wages of all workers….”
The plan also expands an existing program for deportation protection for the “dreamers”—those born after 1981 who entered the U.S. before June 15, 2007, had been in the U.S. at least five years and met certain other criteria.
The new executive order will provide such protection for those who entered the U.S. before Jan. 1, 2010, regardless of their current age.
In his speech, Obama said that the directive “does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently or offer the same benefits that citizens receive—only Congress can do that."
DHS also will set up a new Priority Enforcement Program “to remove those convicted of criminal offenses,” the White House said. It also will focus its border enforcement on “national security threats, serious criminals and recent border crossers.”
In addition, according to the White House summary, the order will provide “portable work authorization for high-skilled workers awaiting legal permanent resident status and their spouses.”