President Barack Obama delivered a message to Republicans who fiercely oppose his long-anticipated executive actions to overhaul immigration enforcement and deportations: pass a bill and I’ll undo my changes.
“To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: pass a bill,” he said during a prime time address on Thursday night announcing his actions. “I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.”
Obama cast his moves in the language of responsibility, fairness and family values, even invoking scripture, saying that “undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.”
Obama’s actions will shift immigration enforcement toward the more dangerous targets, and pave the way for nearly 5 million undocumented people to apply for 3-year legal status and work permits. He intends to expand the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals plan by lifting the age limit, and create a new program shielding undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents from deportation, according to the White House.
Invoking the Senate-passed immigration bill, Obama said the Republican-led House forced him to act alone by refusing to take up immigration legislation.
“For a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote,” he said.
In a video message before Obama’s speech, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) attacked the president for seeking to act on his own. “That’s just not how our democracy works,” he said. “That president has said before that he’s not king, and that he’s not an emperor. But he’s sure acting like one.”
The conservative backlash is shaping up to be ferocious. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) lambasted Obama’s announcement in a statement.
“The president’s proposed actions today are lawless, unconstitutional, and are a direct insult to the American people,” Scalise said. “Earlier this month, when voters went to the polls, they sent a strong message to Washington: the American people rejected President Obama’s agenda and want Washington to start working for them, not a go-it-alone president hell-bent on forcing his radical agenda via subterfuge.”
Obama pushed back on Republicans who have floated a strategy that would lead to a government shutdown unless he backs down and reverses his actions.
“Congress certainly shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this,” Obama said. “Americans are tired of gridlock. What our country needs from us right now is a common purpose – a higher purpose.”
Obama spoke about the issue in personal terms, saying some of the young people he wants to protect from deportation are “as American as” his own two daughters.
“I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers. I’ve seen the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love. These people – our neighbors, our classmates, our friends – they did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life. They came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America’s success.”