The Obama administration is considering a plan that would shield possibly around 5m illegal immigrants from deportation as part of a broad set of executive actions that could be announced as early as next week, sources say.
Obama’s plan would cover millions of undocumented people living in the US for at least five years, according to figures from the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
The step would fall shy of what many immigrant advocates have been demanding, but is sure to enrage Republicans who are already trying to devise ways to thwart his actions.
Obama argues that executive action is necessary because the Republican-controlled House of Representatives failed to pass a sweeping, bipartisan immigration bill approved by the Senate earlier this year.
Travelling in Asia, Obama said Congress could simply undo his executive actions by passing comprehensive immigration legislation.
“I would advise that if in fact they want to take a different approach, rather than devote a lot of time trying to constrain my lawful actions as the chief executive of the US government in charge of enforcing our immigrations laws, that they spend some time passing a bill,” he said during a news conference in Yangon, Myanmar.
Republican leaders warn that unilateral action by Obama would only darken the prospects of Congress passing immigration legislation.
They argue that it sends the wrong signal to voters who gave Republicans control of the Senate and expanded their majority in the House in midterm elections last week.
“We’re going to fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down this path. This is the wrong way to govern. This is exactly what the American people said on election day they didn’t want,” House speaker John Boehner said. “And so, all the options are on the table.”
Some conservatives in the House and Senate announced plans to push for language in must-pass spending bills to block the president from acting. But other Republicans warned that such a push could result in another unpopular government shutdown like the one last year over Obama’s healthcare plan.
Obama has pledged to move on the measures by year’s end, and White House officials are debating whether to act soon after he returns this weekend from his trip to Asia and Australia or wait until after Congress approves a spending bill in December.
Democrats will not relinquish control of the Senate until the new Congress takes office in January.
A senior White House administration official said Obama’s immigration announcement could come next week, but the official said the president hadn’t made a decision yet either about timing or content of the decision.
Several officials said Obama still hasn’t received formal recommendations from Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson, but they said Obama is well-acquainted with the realm of possibilities.
The 5m estimate includes extending deportation protections to parents and spouses of US citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for some years.
The president is also likely to expand his two-year-old programme that protects young immigrants from deportation. Although Obama is not able to grant citizenship or permanent resident green cards on his own without Congress, he can offer temporary protection from deportation along with work authorisation, as he has done in the past.
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