President Barack Obama is poised to unveil a series of executive actions on immigration that will shield possibly around 5 million immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation, according to advocates in touch with the White House.
The 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 is also likely to expand his 2-year-old program that protects young immigrants from deportation.
Timing of the announcement is unclear, though it's expected before the end of the year. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama would review final recommendations after returning from his Asia trip next week.
Congressional Republicans are strongly opposed to Obama's plans, and as lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill this week following midterm elections in which the GOP retook the Senate, conservatives made plans to push for language in must-pass spending bills to block the president from acting. Some Republican leaders warned that the result of such a push could be another government shutdown like the one last year over Obama's health care plan.
The advocates, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a public announcement, said that final details of the plan remained in flux. But the White House is likely to include parents and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, stipulating that they've resided in the U.S. for some period of time — possibly as little as five years. That group totals around 3.8 million people, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Although Obama is not able to grant citizenship or permanent resident green cards on his own without congressional involvement, he can offer temporary protection from deportation along with work authorization, as he is done in the past.
Adjustments also are expected to the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allowed immigrants under 31 who had arrived before June 2007 to apply for a reprieve from deportation and a work permit. More than 600,000 young immigrants have been shielded from deportation to date under the program. Removing the upper age limit so that applicants don't have to be under 31 is one option under consideration, according to advocates — would make an additional 200,000 people eligible.
Other adjustments to immigration programs are expected, including possible changes to visa programs to speed up issuance of visas for high-tech workers or others.
Changes are also expected on the law enforcement side, including to a controversial program called Secure Communities that hands over people booked for local crimes to federal immigration authorities. A former administration official with knowledge of the plans said the Secure Communities program would be eliminated or at least renamed, although some of the concepts would remain. Priorities for immigrants to be picked up by immigration authorities will also be revised to eliminate some of the less serious conduct that previously would have caused someone to be detained, said the former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose private details.
In an interview on CBS' "Face The Nation" Sunday, Obama said he would prefer to sign legislation that would "make sure that the millions of people who are here, many have been here for a decade or more, and have American kids, and for all practical purposes are part of our community, that they pay a fine, they pay any penalties, they learn English, they get to the back of the line but they have a capacity to legalize themselves here."
Absent such legislation, the president said, "I am going to do what I can do through executive action." He said the Homeland Security Department is "deporting people who don't need to be deported."
Advocates are bracing to embrace the long-sought changes, which Obama has delayed twice, most recently under pressure from Senate Democrats concerned about the midterm elections. At the same time they intend to keep pushing for wider protections and a legislative solution. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are debating the best way to stop Obama.