Obama Sets Thursday TV Address to Announce Immigration Actions

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President Barack Obama speaks at 'A Salute to the Troops: In Performance at the White House' on the South Lawn November 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

President Barack Obama will outline in a television speech tomorrow night his plan to give between 4 million and 5 million undocumented immigrants a reprieve from deportation.

Obama’s executive actions would give temporary visas to undocumented immigrants whose children were born in the U.S., according to people familiar with the proposal. The plan would expand eligibility for his 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that has given protection to 600,000 child immigrants.

Obama, in a White House video posted today, said his speech tomorrow at 8 p.m. Washington time will explain how he’s tackling an issue that’s been allowed “to fester far too long.” He’ll then fly on Nov. 21 to Las Vegas to discuss his immigration actions at a school, the president said.

The planned action, which the White House says is a partial fix for the U.S. immigration system, may improve Obama’s standing with Hispanics after he presided over a record number of deportations and damage his chances of working with Republicans in Congress on other policy matters.

The idea behind his strategy is to cover categories of immigrants that would be politically difficult for Republicans to oppose, because that would involve separating parents from their children, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the matter.

‘Angry Fight’

Anna Navarro, former chief Hispanic adviser to Arizona Senator John McCain, said Republicans “need to resist the urge of taking their toys and going home from the playground because Obama stuck his tongue out at them.” A fight over keeping parents with their children won’t be a winning political argument for Republicans, she said.

By centering his plan on family unification, Obama is seeking to drive a wedge in the Republican Party, which includes members who support what the president is doing even if they oppose his use of presidential powers to achieve it.

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said Obama was abusing his power and instead should have worked with Republicans.

“There is nobody who’s abused the authority to issue executive orders more than the current occupant of the White House,” he said. Obama is undermining Republican support for “common-sense immigration bills,” he said.

People’s Will

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said Obama was behaving as an “emperor” and ignoring the will of the people. “He will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for congressional action on this issue –- and many others,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an e-mail.

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released today, 48 percent of Americans oppose Obama taking executive action on immigration while 38 percent support it. About 14 percent have no opinion or are unsure. The poll was conducted Nov. 14-17 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Obama will also expand a program that gives work permits for up to 29 months to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, according to the people, who requested anonymity before a formal announcement. That provides more workers to fill high-tech jobs.

Broadened Eligibility

The administration already broadened eligibility for the program in 2012 by increasing the qualifying fields of study.

The executive action will include enforcement measures and changes to legal-immigration procedures, the people said.

The president’s action is expected to stop short of including the parents of children brought to the U.S. illegally, called Dreamers, the people said. Senate Democrats were pressing the White House to cover this group under the current plan.

Republicans are vowing to try to block the executive action, arguing that it’s an unconstitutional power grab that will poison the environment for bipartisan compromise in the new Congress, which they will control.

A group of at least 60 House Republicans is pushing to use a government funding bill to deny the president the money needed to implement his plan. Congress must approve funds by Dec. 11 to keep the government open or risk an interruption similar to last year, when Republican demands to defund the president’s health-care law led to a 16-day partial shutdown.

Be Bold

Democratic lawmakers have been urging the president to be bold with his plan. They cite the failure of the Republican-led House to take up a bill the Senate passed last year with bipartisan support creating a path to citizenship for many of the nation’s estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants.

Republicans are split on the immigration issue generally. Some say the party must take steps to ease its stance against undocumented immigrants while others consider them lawbreakers who don’t deserve what many of them label amnesty.

National demographic shifts, particularly in competitive states such as Nevada and Florida, make the support of Hispanic voters critical to both political parties.

Republicans have already begun to temper some of their threats over shutting down the government to stop Obama.

Earlier yesterday, Boehner and his allies said they’re reviewing alternatives to using a funding bill to fight the executive action, including retroactively canceling money in 2015 for any action taken by Obama.

Not ‘Appropriate’

Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a Boehner ally, said many members “understand what was done in October of last year is not the appropriate way going forward.” Court challenges also are a possibility, he said.

“The conference is trying to be a lot more thoughtful,” Cole said. “Our aim is to shut down what the president is doing, not to shut down the government.”

The White House began sharing policy and messaging plans yesterday with outside groups and Democrats on Capitol Hill. In addition to arguing that Obama has the legal authority to revamp the immigration system, the White House says Congress can step in at any time with legislation.

“There is a very simple solution to the perception that somehow the president is exercising too much executive authority, and that’s for Congress to pass a bipartisan bill to permanently fix the system,” according to White House talking points, which were obtained by Bloomberg.

Superseding Actions

“If they get that done, the president looks forward to signing it into law -- superseding the actions he’s taken on his own to fix as much of the system as he can.”

The number of people who would be protected from prosecution depends on how the executive action is structured and whether it requires the undocumented parents and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to have been in the country for five years or 10 years to qualify.

The Migration Policy Institute has estimated that a five-year threshold would protect 3.3 million parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents. It also would provide a reprieve for 1.2 million spouses, a set that overlaps with the group of parents. The figures would be much lower -- 2.5 million parents and 910,000 spouses -- if the bar was set at 10 years, according to the institute.

In addition, the institute reported, 520,000 undocumented immigrants would be shielded by an Obama order that changes eligibility for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by eliminating the maximum age of 30 and changing the age of arrival to under 18.

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