Obama to test powers, detail immigration plans Thursday
Washington — In a broad test of his executive powers, President Barack Obama said Wednesday he will sidestep Congress and unveil administrative actions on immigration — measures that could spare from deportation as many as 5 million people illegally in the U.S. and set up one the most pitched partisan confrontations of his presidency.
Obama declared that Washington has allowed the immigration problem "to fester for too long."
The president will use an 8 p.m. address Thursday to announce his measures and will sign the executive actions during a rally in Las Vegas on Friday. In doing so, Obama will be taking an aggressive stand that he had once insisted was beyond his presidential power.
As many as 5 million people in the country illegally are likely to be protected from deportation and made eligible for work permits under the plan. They would not have a path to citizenship, however, and the actions could be reversed by a new president in two years. Officials said the eligible immigrants would not be entitled to federal benefits — including health care tax credits — under Obama's plan.
The 5 million estimate includes extending deportation protections to parents and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for some years. The president also is likely to expand his 2-year-old program that protects young immigrants from deportation. The administration had considered extending the executive action to parents of young immigrants covered under a 2012 Obama directive but immigration advocates said they did not expect them to be included in the final plan.
Republicans vehemently oppose the president's likely actions, but are deeply divided and have spent much of the week intensely debating how to respond. Some conservative members have threatened to pursue a government shutdown and one — two-term Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama — raised the specter of impeachment on Wednesday.
House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman criticized Obama's planned announcement, noting that the president himself has said in the past that he is not "emperor" and is limited in his ability to act on his own.
A wide-ranging immigration bill passed the Senate last year, but stalled in the Republican-led House. Senate Democratic leaders on Wednesday took turns declaring their support for Obama's unilateral action, blaming Republican inaction for forcing Obama to act.
"There's one more chance: just put the bill on the floor Speaker Boehner," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a lead author of the comprehensive immigration bill which passed the Senate last year and stalled in the House. "Pass the bill and we will not even have to debate executive action."
Even Republicans who supported the Senate bill that overhauled immigration laws said Obama's go-it-alone approach would backfire.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who worked on the Senate legislation, said the executive actions would leave the status of millions of immigrants unresolved and would not address what he called a broken immigration system.