President Obama appears to be closing in on a decision on executive orders that would provide work permits and protection from deportation for millions of immigrants in the United States illegally.
Two reports, one from Fox News and a second from The New York Times, suggest the president is prepared to dramatically expand his deferred action program, allowing the parents of children who are legal residents or citizens of the United States to avoid deportation proceedings. Obama could also expand the eligibility for the current deferred action program, which allows children who were brought to the United States illegally and remained in violation of the law to stay in the country.
It’s not yet clear how many millions of people would be eligible for the new protections; the White House is reportedly still weighing how long immigrant parents would need to have resided in the U.S. to be eligible for the program. But according to the reports, between 2.5 million and 4.5 million of the nation’s estimated 11.7 million illegal immigrants could qualify.
The president is also poised to expand how the federal government issues specialty visas for high-tech workers. Immigration activists earlier this year suggested that rather than counting each individual family member against a legislatively mandated cap for the program, the government could instead only count the head of a family — and not siblings, spouses, or children.
And, the White House is reportedly drafting new guidance to federal agencies for when deportation investigations and proceedings should proceed, instructing law enforcement to focus their efforts on violent criminals.
Earlier Thursday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama was “nearing a final decision” on what steps to take.
Earnest said Obama had met with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who is leading the review of possible administrative actions, within the past week.
“And I would anticipate that the president will receive some final recommendations from the secretary relatively soon,” Earnest said, reiterating that an announcement would come before the end of the calendar year.
The White House has said that there would not be an announcement before the president’s return from Asia on Sunday, and, according to the Times, his advisers are weighing when would be best to make such an announcement.
While Obama could make his decision as soon as next week, the White House is also considering how the announcement could affect work in the lame-duck session of Congress.
GOP lawmakers have indicated they might look to link legislation funding the government to blocking any executive action the president might take, and the announcement could cause headaches in the confirmation proceedings for Loretta Lynch, Obama’s nominee to become the next attorney general.
“Congress can stop it and must stop it,” Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Those predicting Facebook's demise are blowing smoke If bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold MORE (R-Ala.) said in an interview Wednesday with Fox News, calling the reported proposals “really a threat to the constitutional order.”
The White House did say the president would not necessarily wait until the conclusion of the lame-duck session before he announces his decision.
But Earnest said that lawmakers interested in preventing the president from acting unilaterally should take up reform efforts themselves.
“If the House does pass the bipartisan Senate bill that's already passed, the president would happily sign that into law,” Earnest said. “And if he has already made a decision and moved forward on his own executive actions, he would happily retract those executive actions so that we could implement the bipartisan Senate bill.”
Earlier this week, the White House downplayed concerns, expressed by congressional leaders, that executive action would prevent cooperation on other legislative issues.
Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE (R-Ohio) warned Obama against the pursuit during a meeting Friday at the White House, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: I'm going to give Biden's Supreme Court nominee 'a fair look' Progressive millionaire group backs Cisneros, McBath in first public endorsements Clyburn calls for full-court press on voting rights MORE (R-Ky.) has likened the maneuver to waving a red flag at a bull.
“What I’m not going to do is just wait," Obama told reporters last week in Washington. "I think it’s fair to say that I have shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible. And I’m going to keep on doing so. But in the meantime, let’s figure out what we can do lawfully though executive actions to improve the functioning of the existing system."