President Obama will announce Thursday evening that his administration will shield about 5 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally from deportation and allow them to apply for a three-year work permit if they can pass a background check, register with the government, submit biometric data, and establish they are eligible for relief.
"The actions I'm taking are not only lawful, they're the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every Democratic President for the past half century," the president will say, according to advance excerpts released by the White House. "And 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."
The president will not sign any executive orders to carry out his plans, but will rather issue several presidential memoranda that establish new procedures and guidelines for the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Labor.
Those who will be affected by the memoranda include the parents of children who were either born in the U.S. or are Lawful Permanent Residents, and children who were brought into the country illegally prior to January 1, 2010, and have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. The latter category represents an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, which previously required applicants to have arrived before June 15, 2007.
Dreamers, the name given to young illegal immigrants who advocated for the original DACA law, are likely to be angered by the order since it excludes their parents from relief. The Migration Policy Institute estimates there are about 300,000 immigrants in the U.S. illegally who have a child who was a DACA recipient, but no children who are U.S. citizens or Legal Permanent Residents.
The actions are temporary and can be undone by Congressional legislation passed while Mr. Obama is in office, or by a future president, who can decide to extend or eliminate the new procedures.
Adults who are covered by the program will be allowed to apply for a three-year work permit so long as they prove they have no criminal record and register with the government. They will also have to pay taxes and a fee for processing their paperwork.
Mr. Obama will argue that removing the threat of deportation for some 5 million of the more than 11-million immigrants estimated to be living in the U.S. illegally will allow immigration courts to focus their resources on and speed up deportations for those who arrived most recently and people with suspected ties to terrorism, felony violence and gangs.
"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," the president will say, according to the excerpts. "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. If you're a criminal, you'll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up."
The administration plans to keep the elevated number of Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on the southern border to help stem the flow of illegal immigration.
The memoranda will also make a few alterations to the legal immigration system, allowing the holders of H1-B, or high-skilled visa, to move or change jobs without the potential to lose their immigration status and provide expanded options for immigration to foreign entrepreneurs. They will also extend the amount of time that foreign students studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics can stay in the US and speed up the process of reviewing requests for Lawful Permanent Resident status for the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.
On Wednesday evening, Mr. Obama hosted more than a dozen congressional Democrats at the White House to discuss his plans. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, who attended the dinner, said on the Senate floor Thursday that "what President Obama is going to suggest instead of amnesty is accountability. Accountability."
Durbin laid out more of the details of Mr. Obama's plans, noting that after registering with the government, immigrants will have to pay a filing fee, submit themselves to a criminal background check and pay taxes.
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"The president says if you will do that under his order, it's my understanding it will say you can legally work in America," he said. "You don't become a citizen. You don't have legal status beyond the work permit, but you don't have to fear deportation."
Durbin continued, "This really says to those who wish to stay, if you will play by these rules, we will give you a chance to stay and work. And what's the reason? We want to deport felons. We don't want to deport families."
The senator lauded the president for acting and called on House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to pass the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill this year.
"There is no excuse," Durbin said. "If he's going to criticize the president for using his power to solve a problem, then the speaker should use his power to address that same problem."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, did indeed say on the Senate floor Thursday morning that should Mr. Obama act "in defiance of the people," then "Congress will act."
He did not, however, specify exactly what Congress would do. Meanwhile, he said that Mr. Obama's actions would "impose new unfairness on law-abiding immigrants all without solving the problem."
"In fact," he added, "his action is more likely to make it even worse."
"Just as with Obamacare, the action the president is proposing isn't about solutions," McConnell continued. "It isn't about compassion. It seems to be about what a political party thinks would make for good politics. It seems to be about what a president thinks would be good for his legacy."
Gov. Chris Christie, R-New Jersey, a potential contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, criticized Mr. Obama's"failure to act in the first two years when he had enormous majorities in Congress and in 2008."
In 2008, Christie said to CBS News, Mr. Obama "campaigned to the Hispanic community all across this country that he was going to deal with this issue, and he refused to deal with it and instead he decided he wanted to do Obamacare. He made a judgment and now he wants to blame it on other people. He has nobody to blame but himself."
"He made his choice," Christie continued. "He said that government-run health care was more important than fixing the broken immigration system. I hope the Hispanic community hears that and remembers it."
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, pointed out on Thursday that the Senate last year passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with bipartisan support, but the House has failed to follow suit.
"This is a dereliction of duty, not to address the broken immigration system in our country and what it does to our economy, first and foremost to our families," she said. Some Republicans have said that Mr. Obama would sour relations with Congress by acting unilaterally, but Pelosi said, "That's not a reason not to cooperate, it's an excuse for them not to cooperate."
Watch President Obama announce his plans to expand immigration live on CBSN Thursday Nov. 20, at 8:00p.m. EST.