WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama will lay out a plan on Thursday to fix the "broken" laws stranding millions of undocumented migrants in limbo, saying the problem has festered for too long.
In confirming his intention to act through executive order, Obama also threw down the gauntlet Wednesday to his Republican opponents in a Congress that has failed to pass broader reform legislation.
The president did not reveal details, but officials have suggested his order may give undocumented parents of children born in the United States greater protection from deportation proceedings and allow them to travel legally.
Such moves could affect up to five million of America's estimated 11 million undocumented migrants from deportation.
"Everyone agrees that our immigration system is broken – unfortunately, Washington has allowed the problem to fester for too long," Obama said in a video message.
After unveiling his moves in a prime-time address on Thursday, Obama will the next day take to the road to promote his plan at an event at a school in Las Vegas.
"What I'm going to be laying out are the things that I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system work better, even as I continue to work with Congress and encourage them to get a bipartisan comprehensive bill that can solve the entire problem," Obama said.
The White House has long wanted to pass a broad immigration reform package that would offer a path to citizenship for young migrants that grew up in the United States.
A new immigration law did pass the then-Democratically controlled Senate last year, but the Republican House of Representatives blocked it and failed to agree on its own alternative proposal.
Since then, the Senate has also fallen into the hands of Obama's opponents, most of whom would oppose "amnesty" for illegal immigrants or any bid by the White House to by-pass Congress.
"If he acts by executive diktat, President Obama will not be acting as a president, he will be acting as a monarch," Republican Senator Ted Cruz, one of Obama's harshest critics in Congress, wrote in an op-ed.
White House lawyers and many outside experts believe Obama has the constitutional authority to act, and administration spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama's action would not be unprecedented.
"Presidents from Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, both Bushes took executive action," he said, referring to previous quick fixes applied to the US immigration system.
The failed bill that Obama once backed foresaw granting temporary work papers to young migrants born of undocumented parents but who had grown up in the United States.
But, now that he has decided to act without waiting for a legislative majority in Congress, Obama can go much further.
Media reports citing administration officials suggest that his measure could be extended to cover the parents of children who have graduated from US high school or served in the military.
All in all, the move would protect around five million people – most of them from Mexico or other countries in Latin America – from the threat of arrest and deportation by US federal authorities.
It may not, however, provide a clear path to eventual citizenship or permanent residency for migrants, an idea that may have to wait for another president or another generation of lawmakers.
Non-citizens cannot vote in US elections, but immigration is an important issue for many registered voters, especially for those from the country's growing Hispanic and Asian minorities.
Obama's final term comes to an end in 2016, and any candidate vying to replace him will have to balance white voters' concerns about mass immigration with the need to woo new voting blocs.
The president was to meet Democrat lawmakers for a planning dinner later Wednesday and will address the nation at 8:00 pm Thursday (0100 GMT Friday), the White House said. —AFP