WASHINGTON – President Obama has signaled he will announce tonight an order granting amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants over the strong objections of many in Congress and despite public opinion opposing the unilateral move.
He reportedly will not call it an executive order, but, rather, a presidential memo. That may be a move to placate critics who call an executive order granting amnesty unconstitutional, but it would still be a unilateral action bypassing Congress.
The plan will emphasize “deporting felons, not families.” Entering the country is a misdemeanor but doing it a second time is a felony.
Obama’s action will provide what the president will call temporary relief from the threat of deportation and provide authorization to legally work in the United States for three years.
According to a White House memo:
“Individuals will have the opportunity to request temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for three years at a time if they come forward and register, submit biometric data, pass background checks, pay fees, and show that their child was born before the date of this announcement.”
More details of Obama’s directive:
- It will protect as many as 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation and grant them work permits.
- More than four million illegal immigrants who have been in the country for five years will be eligible, including parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
- 300,000 immigrants who arrived in the country before the age of 16 will be eligible. That is an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, executive order issued by Obama two years ago.
- Amnesty applicants will go through criminal and national security background checks.
- They will be required to pay a fee and taxes (although most low-income earners receive tax credits.)
- “More resources” will be promised to strengthen border security and to deport recently arrived illegal immigrants.
- Immigration court proceedings will be “streamlined.”
According to a leaked excerpt of the address, the president will say: “Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character.”
Scathing criticism of the president’s plan began even before the official announcement.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, invoked the oratory of the Roman senator Cicero to issue a searing assesment of the prospect of amnesty, saying: “When, President Obama, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.: “President Obama is not above the law and has no right to issue Executive Amnesty. His actions blatantly ignore the Separations of Powers and the principles our country was founded on. The President has said 22 times previously that he does not have the power to legislate on immigration. I will not sit idly by and let the President bypass Congress and our Constitution.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: “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. 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.”
Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas: “Presidential power long ago broke out of its constitutional shackles, but Barack Obama has taken it even further, to dangerous extremes. He has taken the disastrous hubris of Obamacare and applied it to our national security policy.”
The next question will be: What is the GOP prepared to do to stop amnesty?
Some conservatives see a government shutdown as the only option, but GOP leaders fear the public would blame Republicans.
Congress could send the president a series of short-term spending measures, called continuing resolutions, or CRs, before a Dec. 11 deadline. The CRs could fund everything but the tools Obama would need to implement amnesty, perhaps including such things as the printing of millions of new Social Security cards.
If Obama refused to sign such bills, the government would then be unfunded after Dec. 11 until either the president or Congress changed course.
Some conservatives such as Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Steve King, R-Iowa, are pushing hard to block amnesty with the threat of a shutdown if the president refused to sign such CRs, while other conservative lawmakers want to analyze Obama’s proposal before deciding what actions to take.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah told WND he believes Republican leaders might be amenable to using CRs to defund an amnesty order, but he didn’t appear to convey an urgency to react to whatever Obama might do.
He implied waiting could work to Republicans’ advantage.
“If nothing else, the uncertainty created by all of it might, I suspect, give rise to a very short-term CR, one that would take us around the bend into next year,” Lee told WND. “At that point, we could pass something else with Republican votes in the new Republican Senate.”
When asked if GOP leaders would back efforts to use CRs to stop amnesty, risking a shutdown, Senator-elect James Lankford, R-Okla., told WND: “I don’t know yet. We’re about to find out.”
“The president, in whatever he proposes, doesn’t have full public support. If he had full public support, we would have already passed something, because people would have risen up and said this is what we want. But that’s not where people are,” said Lankford.
Lawmakers have told WND their phone lines melted with calls from outraged citizens when the Senate pushed an amnesty plan in 2007.
Amnesty is still unpopular. According to an election-day exit poll, 74 percent of voters did not want Obama to issue an executive order granting amnesty. It was opposed by even a majority of Democrats at 51 percent, with 92 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of independents preferring the president work with Congress on immigration rather than acting alone.
Even a growing number of Democratic lawmakers are wary of voter backlash over amnesty
Lee told WND: “I think a lot of my Democratic colleagues are tired of being asked again and again to protect the president, often at great political expense to themselves and their fellow Democrats.
“I think they saw the results of this election and realize enough is enough.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., told CNN: “I just wish he (Obama) wouldn’t do it. I really don’t. I just think we ought to work through this process and, with the new elections and the results of the elections, we ought to try in January to see if we can find a pathway to get something accomplished.”
And leftist commentator Ed Schultz tweeted, “(Obama) should back off on immigration reform, give the Republicans a deadline and use the (State of the Union address) to call ’em out,” Schultz said. “[GOP] won’t deliver,” adding, “If (Obama) delivers a deadline, he gets the attention of the country and puts the leadership responsibility on the (Republicans.)”
At least one of amnesty’s strongest supporters believes the president may just do that. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Il., told Fox News he expects the president will give Congress a 180 day deadline to come up with its own immigration bill before putting his executive order into effect.
The GOP will control the Senate, as well as the House, when the new Congress convenes in January. If Obama set a 180-day deadline, it would put the onus on the GOP whether to place more priority on border security than amnesty in any immigration reform bill.
Obama has repeatedly justified his decision to act alone by blaming the House for not passing the Senate’s immigration bill, which conservatives saw as too weak on amnesty.
However, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, told MSNBC the White House actually intervened to stop an immigration bill in the House when it appeared something acceptable to the majority had been negotiated, because the administration feared the bill would emphasize border security more than amnesty.
“His chief of staff, the president’s chief of staff at the time, decided to call House Democrats and tell them that they needed to stop negotiating with House Republicans because they wanted the only vehicle for immigration reform, they want it to be the Senate bill,” said Labrador.
Under pressure from conservatives led by Bachmann, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, dropped his own bill and the House passed a bill enhancing border security in August, but it was never taken up by the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Bachmann told WND it was “the strongest possible action, legislatively” to stop Obama’s amnesty and issuing of work permits to illegal immigrants..
Obama is expected to make the announcement of the amnesty order Thursday night in Las Vegas, Nevada. It will be followed by a rally Friday at the Las Vegas high school were he announced DACA two years ago.
The president posted a video on Facebook in which he said: “What I’m going to be laying out is the things that I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system better, even as I continue to work with Congress and encourage them to get a bipartisan, comprehensive bill that can solve the entire problem.”
However, Republicans, as well as many Democrats and constitutional scholars, doubt such a sweeping order is legal. Prosecutors sometimes employ prosecutorial discretion to decline to take legal actions against individuals on a case-by-case basis. But many legal scholars and lawmakers argue such a sweeping overturning of federal law by executive order would be unconstitutional.
Obama himself has said in the past he did not have the legal or constitutional authority to grant amnesty to millions. At one point he told reporters he was not an “emperor” but a president.
He even argued against amnesty as bad policy in his 2006 book “The Audacity of Hope,” writing: “[T]here’s no denying that many blacks share the same anxieties as many whites about the wave of illegal immigration flooding our Southern border — a sense that what’s happening now is fundamentally different from what has gone on before.
“The number of immigrants added to the labor force every year is of a magnitude not seen in this country for over a century,” wrote the then-future president. “If this huge influx of mostly low-skill workers provides some benefits to the economy as a whole – especially by keeping our workforce young, in contrast to an increasingly geriatric Europe and Japan – it also threatens to depress further the wages of blue-collar Americans and put strains on an already overburdened safety net.”
Obama wrote that seeing Mexican flags at immigration rallies caused him to feel a “patriotic resentment.”