For the first time in more than a decade, millions of undocumented immigrants living, working and raising families in the United States will wake up without fear of deportation.
“If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law,” President Barack Obama said in a prime-time speech Thursday night, giving a three-year reprieve to as many as five million undocumented immigrants
The executive actions—the most sweeping change to the country’s immigration laws in years—will not give those immigrants legal status or federal subsidies like the Affordable Care Act or Social Security, but they will grant a much-needed reprieve to millions of families who were threatened by deportation orders.
“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,” Obama said Thursday.
The announcement was made amid a flurry of partisan feuding: Democrats were frustrated he’d held off on action—some saying the delay kept Hispanic voters at home, contributing to the shellacking the president’s party took in the midterms—while Republicans attacked the president as “lawless,” alleging that he was tearing up the Constitution, violating the law, and “burning” himself.
While Democrats were largely pleased with the announcement—despite some advocates’ frustration over the restraint of the order—Republicans’ criticism only grew as they learned the details of the executive actions.
Conservatives, led by the likes of tea party darling Sen. Ted Cruz, cried “amnesty.”
Sarah Palin decried the “amnesty” as “giving the middle finger to the American people.”
Amnesty is an inaccurate term here—no legal status was granted—but it’s become the rallying cry for the president’s opponents, who say his actions amount to de facto amnesty. (The president argued Thursday night that the current immigration system provides more amnesty than his decision.) Last night, the word “amnesty” was tweeted thousands of times during last night’s address.
And now that the president has acted, Republicans are determined to get even.
“If President Obama acts in defiance of the people and imposes his will on the country, Congress will act,” soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday morning.
House Speaker John Boehner said the president “cemented his legacy of lawlessness” with last night’s address. He and McConnell now are faced with the task of trying to wrangle a fiery Republican caucus, many of whom are furious and have threatened to shut down the government over the executive actions, something party leaders are determined to avoid ahead of a presidential election where they’re trying to cast themselves as leaders and not obstructionists.
It was an apparent conflict in Boehner’s statement: “Republicans are left with the serious responsibility of upholding our oath of office,” he said. “We will listen to [Americans], work with our members, and protect the Constitution.”
The question is which way they’ll go, as Republicans suggest everything from defunding Obama’s action to suing the president for an abuse of power, shutting down the government, or even impeachment.
The champion of last year’s Obamacare shutdown, Sen. Cruz suggested blocking every possible item in the president’s agenda, hinting that he might lead opposition to the budget, the same tactic that forced last year’s shutdown. “President Obama will no doubt threaten a shutdown—that seems to be the one card he repeatedly plays,” he argued in an Op-Ed in Politico.
“This is a tremendous presidential overreach,” South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a video Thursday. “I will try to defund the effort for him to go it alone. We will challenge him in court.”
Despite Republicans efforts to stifle unpopular immigration talk, one Colorado congressmen suggested impeachment as an option for responding to the immigration order on his website, the Denver Post reported.