Obama Unveils Temporary Protection From Deportation
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Good morning. As powerful as presidents may be, it is rare that any president has affected millions of lives overnight. That is what President Obama did last night. His televised speech announced a move so sweeping, Republicans say he exceeded his powers.
ARUN RATH, HOST:
He's using executive action to protect 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The order would also boost border security.
INSKEEP: It would deport more criminals.
RATH: And it would make it easier for highly skilled immigrants to stay in the country.
INSKEEP: Republicans have vowed to fight the president for what they call a brazen power grab. Here NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Speaking from the East Room of the White House, President Obama said the immigration system has been broken for decades, and for decades we haven't done much about it. The first thing to do now, he said, was to prioritize enforcement.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We're going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security - felons, not families, criminals, not children, gang members, not a mom who's working hard to provide for her kids. We'll prioritize just like law enforcement does every day.
LIASSON: And the president said it's time to deal with the millions of immigrants who are not criminals but are here illegally. He offered them a deal.
OBAMA: If you've been in America for more than five years, if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents, if you register, pass a criminal background check and you're willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you'll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.
LIASSON: But, he said...
OBAMA: This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. 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.
LIASSON: This is what the president's opponents call amnesty, but Mr. Obama had a different definition. Amnesty, he said, is the system we have now.
OBAMA: That's the real amnesty, leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I'm describing is accountability, a commonsense, middle ground approach. If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.
LIASSON: Altogether, White House officials say the deportation relief could affect 4 million people. The majority of those eligible are parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal, permanent residents. Temporary relief would also be available to an expanded group of dreamers, people brought here illegally as children. But the president decided there was no legal basis to offer relief to the parents of dreamers, as some immigration activists have been demanding. Republicans, on the other hand, consider the president's actions entirely illegal. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, the incoming Republican majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said the president will regret acting unilaterally.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: If President Obama acts in defiance of the people and imposes his will on the country, Congress will act. We're considering a variety of options. But make no mistake - make no mistake - when the newly elected representatives of the people take their seats, they will act.
LIASSON: Republican leaders say the president's moves have ruined the chances for cooperation on immigration legislation or other issues. To that, the president said, in effect, if you don't like what I did, pass a bill of your own.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
OBAMA: Meanwhile, don't let a disagreement over a single issue be a deal breaker on every issue. That's not how our democracy works, and Congress certainly shouldn't shut down our government again just because we disagree on this. Americans are tired of gridlock. What our country needs from us right now is a common purpose, a higher purpose.
LIASSON: Most Americans support the substance of what the president plans to do. But there's less support for the way he did it. And depending on how the Republicans in Congress react, there will be a bitter fight over immigration that could last for the rest of the Obama presidency. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
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