WASHINGTON — President Obama took a historic, legacy-defining step Thursday night when he announced a plan to protect 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, infuriating Republicans but satisfying immigrants who have fought for years for such relief.
The president’s plan will allows undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, known as green card holders, to legally live and work in the country for a period of three years. He also expanded the pool of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children who are eligible for protected status.
The plan also makes it easier for foreign workers trained in high-tech fields to enter, and stay in, the country. And it refocuses the nation’s entire immigration enforcement apparatus on a much smaller pool of immigrants — those with criminal records, ties to terrorist organizations or gangs and people who crossed the border in the past year.
“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 said from the East Room of the White House. “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 in Congress promised to do everything in their power to block the president’s actions. Some have called for impeachment. Some want to sue the president in federal court. And with Washington in the middle of debating next year’s budget, some want to use Congress’ power of the purse to defund his move.
“Make no mistake,” Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Thursday. “When the newly elected representatives of the people take their seats, they will act.”