As many as 5 million undocumented immigrants will see temporary relief from deportation under an executive order President Barack Obama announced Thursday night and will sign Friday.
Undocumented parents of children with legal status in the country will be shielded from deportation for three years under the president's plan, which also extends deferred action to additional undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Eligible undocumented immigrants who pass a criminal background test and pay a fee would be allowed to work in the country legally.
"This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently," Obama stressed during his Thursday night speech to the nation. "It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive - only Congress can do that. All we're saying is we're not going to deport you."
Republicans are not happy with Obama's decision to make a go at immigration reform alone. House GOP leaders, however, have refused to call up a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which won bipartisan approval in the Senate in June of 2013.
In a message posted to his Facebook page before the president's address on immigration, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH,8) said, "Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he's acting on his own. But that is just not how our democracy works."
"The president has said before that 'he's not king' and he's 'not an emperor,' but he sure is acting like one," Boehner said.
The president's announcement also prompted swift reaction from immigration advocates, members of Illinois' congressional delegation as well as Chicago mayoral candidate and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who issued the following statement:
Chicago is a city of immigrants and today we honored their contributions. I am excited that many members of our community will be granted relief from deportations and our families will no longer live in fear of being separated from their children. Sadly, many of our community leaders who have fought the hardest for this win may not qualify. Elected officials who have advocated for deportation quotas and believe that immigration is the "third rail" of politics prevented a comprehensive immigration reform. Those who impeded our progress on this essential issue of human rights and economic growth need to be held responsible for the fact that even after the President's effort, we are left with a broken immigration system. I will continue to press leaders in Congress to fix our broken immigration system so that all 11 million undocumented immigrants are able to come out of the shadows and are put on a pathway to citizenship.
Here's a sampling of other statements issued in response to Obama's executive action.
Illinois Business Immigration Coalition:
The Illinois Business Immigration Coalition (IBIC) represents a growing and diverse set of businesses and business associations across the state. IBIC provides a voice for Illinois businesses in support of common sense immigration reform that supports Illinois' economic recovery, provides Illinois companies with both the high-skilled and low-skilled talent they need, and promotes the integration of immigrants into our economy as consumers, workers, entrepreneurs and citizens.
Although we believe that legislative action is the best way to develop common sense, and permanent solutions to our large and complex immigration problems, executive action by the President is a welcomed relief to millions of families living in fear, businesses disrupted due to unnecessary deportations, and a national security compromised because we currently do not know who is in our country and for what purpose.
IBIC remains committed to encouraging Congress to take up and pass immigration legislation that secures the border and enacts a tough screening process so we know who is in the country and for what purpose, creates a functioning visa system allowing safe, orderly, and legal immigration for the needed agricultural, high skilled and low skilled workers, and a legal status or path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here.
It is bad for the economy to have millions of people working in the shadows. It is bad for national security when we do not know who is in the country and for what purpose. It is bad for the country when families are kept apart. The President's Executive Order may help to bring millions of workers out of the shadow, legally entering them into the workforce, and strengthen our national security, but absent legislation, our country's immigration system remains broken.
Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy:
We are relieved and grateful that President Obama finally has kept his promise to address our broken immigration system and relieve the fear of permanent exile and family separation that has plagued immigrants and American families.
With this temporary relief, parents of U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident children, as well as adults who have been raised and educated in our communities, will have the opportunity to pursue their educations, open businesses, advance their careers, and continue to contribute to our cities and economy. The president's plan will help restore some stability to American families, neighborhoods, schools, and businesses that have struggled in recent years as the government has detained and deported people at a record pace.
While the president's program is a step in the right direction, we regret that it still excludes many parents and other individuals who have deep roots in U.S. communities. We will continue to encourage Congress to fulfill its obligation to create a permanent solution that makes our immigration system more humane and functional for everyone.
NIJC also welcomes the demise of the Secure Communities program, in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requested that local law enforcement agencies unconstitutionally hold individuals so the agency could decide whether to initiate removal proceedings. We will keep a watchful eye on its replacement, the Priority Enforcement Program, as well as other announced shifts in enforcement priorities which we hope will significantly reduce the number of people who are unjustly and unnecessarily targeted by immigration enforcement efforts.
NIJC laments the administration's failure to address the continuing detention and rapid deportation of children and families who have sought protection from Central American violence. Even as the U.S. government extends relief to millions of people with long-term ties to our country, it also should uphold its history of welcoming those who seek refuge from persecution. Our nation has the resources and the compassion to do both.
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL,2):
I support the President taking action to address our nation's immigration crisis by securing our borders, prioritizing criminals in deportations and making everyone accountable in paying their fair share of taxes. His executive action is an important first step toward immigration reform, which Republicans in Congress have punted on for far too long. It is now incumbent upon Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform to fix our country's broken immigration system and keep families together.
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL,4):
President Obama is using his pen to help the country and we celebrate his courage. I am going sign up the families that are covered, keep fighting for the families that are not covered, and we are going to make the City of Chicago a model for the rest of the country. We all must recognize that no executive action is a substitute for legislation, so the fundamental challenge of getting legislation through the Republican-controlled House remains the same.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D,IL-8):
During my time in office I have consistently heard from individuals and groups throughout the political spectrum that believe we need comprehensive immigration reform that is practical, fair and humane and that will grow our economy. I was encouraged by the passage of bipartisan immigration reform last year in the Senate and am disappointed that the majority in the House of Representatives did not bring similar bipartisan legislation for a vote.
Given the inaction of Congress, I support the President moving forward with executive actions that will improve security at the border while prioritizing deporting felons, not families. It is now time for Congress to work together to enact comprehensive immigration reform that will improve our immigration system for the long term.
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D,IL-11):
We have ignored our broken immigration system for too long, and I am pleased that the President is taking action to improve our immigration system and provide temporary relief for some families. These actions which are long overdue, will prevent millions of families from being torn apart, provide visas for highly-skilled workers, and give many immigrants relief from the fear of deportation.
Every day that leaders in Congress block comprehensive immigration reform, it costs taxpayers $37 million in lost revenue. The President's decision to issue work permits, so that immigrants with strong ties to America, who pass criminal background checks, can work legally and pay their taxes is a common sense solution that will benefit our economy.
To those who say this should not be done with executive action, the answer is simple: bring comprehensive immigration reform up for a vote in the House. Like similar actions taken by his predecessors, including Presidents Reagan and Bush, President Obama's actions will provide temporary relief, but what we really need is comprehensive immigration reform. It's been nearly a year and a half since the Senate passed bipartisan immigration reform. Despite an outpouring of support from the business community, religious leaders, law enforcement, and people from all walks of life, House leadership refuses to allow a vote on comprehensive immigration reform.
Any day, Speaker Boehner could wake up, listen to the teachings of his church, the business community, or the millions of Americans calling for action, and bring comprehensive immigration reform up for a vote - it would pass with strong bipartisan support, and become the law of the land. But we cannot continue to sit on the sidelines and wait for that day while families are being torn apart.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL17):
I have long shared the view of most Americans that our immigration system is broken and in need of comprehensive reform that includes securing the border and cracking down on employers who undermine American workers by knowingly hiring undocumented workers. More recently, I've been frustrated and disappointed that due to the obstructionism of some, Congress has not been able to come together in a bipartisan manner to address this growing problem. These same lawmakers have now recklessly put another politically induced government shutdown, which would hurt our region's economy and workers, on the table - a move I find unacceptable.
While I hope that today's action by the President will spur further needed reform, I believe firmly that Congress needs to lead on this important issue. I continue to urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to fix our broken immigration system by setting politics aside and doing what is in the best interest of our country.