Obama's immigration speech
By Associated Press, adapted by Newsela staff
Our leaders should have the right to deport parents and children that are illegal immigrants to stay in America
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama used executive actions on immigration Thursday night to spare nearly 5 million people in the U.S. illegally from deportation. He also directed enforcement efforts against illegal immigrants to focus just on "felons, not families."
The moves marked the most sweeping changes to the nation's immigration laws in nearly 30 years.
The president spent months trying to get a law passed through Congress, before taking action on his own. By using executive actions, Obama set off a fierce fight with Republicans over the limits of presidential powers.
In a televised address to the nation, Obama defended the legality of his actions. He challenged GOP lawmakers to not block his measures. Instead, he asked them to approve a law to take the place of his executive actions.
"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.
The move is seen as a flexing of his presidential powers. Just two weeks earlier his political standing was challenged in midterm elections that saw Republicans gain firm control of Congress.
"Gracias Presidente Obama"
As Obama spoke from the White House, immigration supporters marched in Washington D.C. They walked with American flags draped over their shoulders, carrying signs that read, "Gracias, Presidente Obama."
Despite Obama's challenge to Republicans to pass a broader immigration bill, his actions and the angry GOP response could do the opposite. They might prevent any chance of an immigration law for the rest of his presidency.
Republicans have felt strengthened by their sweeping victories in the midterms. They are debating their possible responses to the president's actions.
"The president will come to regret the chapter history writes if he does move forward," said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the Senate.
Obama's measures are sweeping in their goals. Yet they still leave more than half of the 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally in a state of uncertainty.
The president announced new deportation rules. Law enforcement will now be directed to focus on tracking down serious criminals and people who have recently crossed the border. People who have been in the U.S. for more than 10 years will not be targeted.
Obama insisted that his actions were not an amnesty. An amnesty for illegal immigrants would forgive their acts of entering the U.S. without permission. It would also give them some legal rights to stay in the U.S.
"Amnesty is the immigration system we have today — millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time," he said.
Young People And Parents Benefit
An amnesty would affect all illegal immigrants. Obama's actions will affect mostly parents and young people.
One group will benefit most: Immigrants who have been in the U.S. illegally for more than five years but whose children are citizens or permanent residents. Those individuals will be able to seek relief from deportation and get work permits. Before doing so, they'll have to pass background checks and pay fees. The administration expects about 4.1 million people to qualify.
Obama is also broadening a rule he made in 2012. It delayed deportation for some young immigrants who entered the country illegally. The current cutoff was for people who arrived in the U.S. as minors before 2007. Obama will expand that to 2010. He also will lift the rule that anyone seeking the delay be under 31. In all, those changes are expected to affect about 300,000 people.
Immigrants can apply for the new delay in deportation in the spring. Those who qualify would receive delays for three years at a time.
Immigration-rights activists gathered around the country to listen to the president. Many have sought the changes for years.
"This is a great day for farmworkers. It's been worth the pain and sacrifice," said Jesus Zuniga, a 40-year-old who picks tomatoes in California's Central Valley.
In New York City, however, a couple of protesters held "no amnesty" signs.
"We have a lot of unemployed Americans right now, and I don't understand why unemployed Americans can't be hired to do the jobs these illegals are doing," said John Wilson.
Who's The Boss?
The White House insists Obama has the legal authority to halt deportations for parents and children. Administration officials say deportations can be stopped on humanitarian grounds. As support, officials mentioned immigration executive actions by previous presidents.
Parents of citizens or permanent residents will have a new path to gain citizenship. Adult citizens are already allowed to sponsor their parents for immigration. Obama's plan goes a step further. Now, young citizens can sponsor their parents.
GOP lawmakers disagree with Obama's claims of legal authority. They called his actions unconstitutional.
Republicans could respond by filing legal challenges or force a government shutdown.
GOP leaders have warned against such talk. Republican leaders say such moves could backfire, angering many Hispanic voters for the next presidential election.