Obama shields 5m undocumented immigrants to ‘Deport felons, not families’

Some detained immigrant children are housed in residential centres in Texas
Some detained immigrant children are housed in residential centres in Texas

President Barack Obama will order immigration officers to deport “felons not families” as he wields executive power to shield five million undocumented immigrants in the most sweeping overhaul of the immigration system in decades.

Obama will reject claims he is offering a free pass to undocumented immigrants and argue that “the real amnesty” would be leaving a broken system as it is now, according to excerpts of his remarks released by the White House.

“Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability — a commonsense, middle ground approach,” Obama will say.

“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.”

Republicans have argued the action is beyond his authority and relations with the president will be poisoned.

There are about 11m illegal immigrants in the US and this year children coming across the border prompted a crisis.

“The president is taking an important step to fix our broken immigration system,” said a White House statement before Mr Obama’s speech, due at 2000EST (0100GMT).

He will pledge to to crack down on illegal immigration at the border and require certain undocumented migrants to pass a criminal background check and pay taxes in order to register to stay temporarily in the US.

More details include:

  • expanding eligibility requirements for those already subject to deportation deferment because they were brought to the US as children
  • ensuring undocumented parents of US citizens or legal permanent residents can temporarily escape deportation
  • shifting additional resources to the US-Mexico border to increase the likelihood of apprehending illegal crossers
  • streamlining the immigration court process to address the backlog of pending cases
  • directing government enforcement activities to national security threats, serious criminals and recent border crossers as highest priorities for removal from the US

Overall, the action could lift the threat of deportation for up to five million undocumented migrants, the White House said.

The plan reflects “the guidance [Mr Obama] has received from the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General about everything he could do under the existing law”, a senior administration official said on Thursday.

“It’s entirely consistent with the way previous presidents have exercised their executive authority.”

President Barack Obama meets with Congressional leaders in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House in Washington. From left are, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Obama 7 November 2014 Mr Obama says he has been forced to act alone
President Barack Obama meets with Congressional leaders in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House in Washington. From left are, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Obama 7 November 2014
Mr Obama says he has been forced to act alone

Mr Obama has pledged for months to take steps on immigration after the Republican-led House of Representatives blocked a bipartisan immigration bill passed by the US Senate in 2013.

But Republican House Speaker John Boehner has said Mr Obama is “playing with fire” if he moves ahead with his immigration plan.

On Thursday, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – soon to head the Congressional chamber after conservatives gained control in the 4 November mid-term elections – vowed to retaliate.

Mr Obama’s plan does not go as far as a Senate bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants but it was never passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The president has said he would still like to work with Congress on a comprehensive bill.

This story appeared first in BBC News

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