President Obama announced new plans to use his executive authority to overhaul immigration laws in America by removing the threat of deportation for over 4 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States and providing the framework for immigration reform that has been mired in political gridlock for over a decade and could face challenges in 2015 when Republicans control both houses of Congress.
Calling America’s immigration system “broken” Obama outlined a multi-layered proposal consisting of shorter version of a bipartisan Senate bill last year that failed to pass the Republican led House of Representatives and consists of sweeping changes that will strengthen border security and foster U.S. citizenship by providing undocumented immigrants with a legal pathway to earn citizenship so they can come “out of the shadows.
Obama’s proposal requires undocumented immigrants to pass background checks, pay taxes and a penalty, go to the back of the line, and learn English.
Obama pointed out that “our history and the facts show that immigrants are a net plus for our economy and our society” and “we are and always will be a nation of immigrants.”
Under the new proposal, high-tech and highly skilled workers will have an easier time coming to the United States.
According to a recent NBC/WSJ poll, 57 percent of Americans support giving illegal immigrants a pathway to U.S. citizenship and that jumps to 74 percent when polled respondents were told that a pathway to U.S. citizenship includes paying fines, back taxes, and completing a background check.
There are estimated 11 million undocumented illegal immigrants living in the United States and over 4 million facing a more immediate threat of deportation.
Obama questioned on Thursday night whether deporting millions of illegal immigrants is the best way forward for America to handle its immigration situation.
“Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works together to keep them together?” Obama asked.
“Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us?” Obama questioned.
Last year, the Democrat controlled Senate passed a bi-partisan immigration bill that Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, led by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), refused to allow a simple vote.
Conservative Republicans inspired by Tea Party ideology have resisted calls for immigration reform that includes granting undocumented immigrants a viable pathway to citizenship.
In 2012 Hispanics realized that Republicans stood in the way of meaningful immigration reform and voted overwhelmingly for President Obama during the last presidential election.
Now that President Obama has decided to use executive authority to implement changes to immigration reform, new Republican presidential candidates preparing for the upcoming presidential election in 2016 could further alienate themselves from an important Hispanic voting bloc by taking a strong stand against immigration reform.
Despite the political risks, many Republicans are distressed by President Obama’s decision to use executive action to authorize immigration reform.
Some Republicans have even threatened to shut down the federal government even despite the political risks.
Congress came to a bipartisan agreement earlier this fall to pass a stopgap funding bill to keep the federal government operating until December 11th.
Emboldened Republican leaders could decide to threaten to shutdown the government again before the December 11th deadline and play hardball with Obama over immigration reform and the Keystone XL pipeline.
Alternatively Republicans could decide to pass another temporary stopgap spending bill and defer taking decisive action on spending bills and immigration reform until early 2015 when they will have greater leverage and control both houses in Congress.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) released a video on Facebook on Thursday criticizing President Obama for using executive authority to jumpstart immigration reform.
“Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he’s acting on his own. But that is just not how our democracy works,” Boehner said.
“The president has said before that ‘he’s not king’ and he’s ‘not an emperor,’ but he sure is acting like one. And he’s doing it at a time when the American people want nothing more than for us to work together” Boehner added.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also took a negative view on Obama’s use of executive authority to get immigration reform moving.
“His actions are not only unconstitutional and in defiance of the American people who said they did not want amnesty in the 2014 elections, but they are also unfair to every immigrant who has come to our nation legally” Cruz posted on his Facebook page.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who has Cuban immigrant roots, took a less negative view towards immigration reform in a released statement.
“We need immigration reform. But the right way to do it is to first bring illegal immigration under control by securing the borders and enforcing the laws, then modernizing our legal immigration system,” Rubio said.
“After we do these things, we will eventually have to deal with those here illegally in a reasonable but responsible way. The President’s actions now make all of this harder and are unfair to people in our immigration system who are doing things the right way” Rubio added.
President Obama understands that his decision to use executive authority to jumpstart immigration reform could lead to a confrontation with Republicans. During his speech on Thursday night, Obama encouraged Republicans to pass an immigration bill rather than obstructing immigration reform.
“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” Obama said defiantly.