By Julissa Catalan
Despite mounting opposition from Republicans, President Obama kept his vow to “fix the system” by sidestepping Congress and addressing the current immigration crisis with an executive action.
The President’s plan will allow undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents—or green-card holders—to legally live and work in the U.S. for a period of three years. This also includes undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children who are eligible for protected status.
However, this does not entitle undocumented immigrants to vote or make them eligible for Obamacare.
“Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability—a common-sense, middle-ground approach,” Obama said. “If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”
The criteria include having been in the U.S. for more than five years, passing a background check, and paying your taxes.
The President emphasized the importance of prioritizing enforcement on those with criminal records, those who participate in terrorist organizations or gangs, and people who have illegally crossed the border in the past year—rather than on hardworking parents.
“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,” he said.
“Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids,” Obama added. “We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.”
His plan will also streamline legal immigration to boost the U.S. economy by expanding work authorization for skilled workers already in line for a green card.
However, Obama insisted that his plan includes deploying additional resources to strengthen the U.S. border.
Watch President Obama’s speech on immigration in its entirety below:
Republicans in Congress have long criticized Obama for his stance on immigration, blaming him for this year’s surge in undocumented minors, calling the 2012 deferred-deportation program—which allows minors who entered the U.S. illegally before 2007 to conditionally stay in the country— “an invitation” to illegal immigrants.
They had asked the President to wait until 2015 to impose a reform—at which point Republicans will control the House and Senate.
According to White House officials, the President did not want to wait, as the House has indicated it will not address immigration reform in the next Congress.
Congressional Republicans promised to do everything in their power to block the President’s plan. Some are calling for impeachment, while some want to sue the President in federal court.
“The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every Democratic President for the past half-century,” Obama said.