WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, in announcing Thursday his unilateral actions to save up to 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, made humanitarian, economic and national security appeals as a certain slice of Republicans could not contain their outrage.
Obama delivered a prime-time speech from the White House — not run by NBC, ABC or CBS but carried live on cable and digital outlets — where he outlined his plans to make a priority of deporting criminals — and not illegal immigrants who live here and have not gotten into trouble.
“Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable — especially those who may be dangerous,” Obama said.
“. . . And that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.”
Obama is ordering immigration officials to refocus on illegal immigrants who may be gang members, take part in other criminal activity or who are terrorists. No one will be getting citizenship, just a long-term temporary break from the fear of deportation if they register, pay taxes and pass a background check.
The Obama legal team drew the orders fairly narrowly — in order to survive the almost certain legal challenge or challenges that will be filed. Still, Republicans said the moves were an improper overreach that will make it harder to forge deals with the White House on immigration.
But because House Republicans leaders have refused to call for a vote any measures to curb deportations, those objections only explain why Obama made his move.
Without congressional action, everything Obama is ordering can be reversed by the next president. On Friday, he will sign the paperwork at a high school in Las Vegas.
Under new rules, the parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents who have been here at least five years, register, have clean records and pay taxes also will not be a deportation priority.
And Obama is expanding the DREAMer program to cover more people here illegally because their parents brought them when they were youths.
Every congressional Republican leader, plus potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates — including some GOP governors — are furious with Obama, citing his repeated statements over the past few years that he cannot rewrite immigration laws solo.
The GOP rage does not come from all precincts, and Illinois is an example of a disconnect within the Republican family.
All six Republican House members from Illinois — Reps. Peter Roskam, Rodney Davis, Randy Hultgren, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger and Aaron Schock — united on a statement that said that Obama’s executive order is a “lawless move that will ultimately do much more harm than good. We believe Congress should take the lead on immigration reform, securing our borders, improving the visa system and addressing the many layers of our broken system.
“This temporary measure will only spark chaos and create major problems both now and in the future,” they said.
That’s in contrast to the Illinois business community — blue-chip Republican CEOs in the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition — who are among their strongest supporters.
Note the more temperate reaction from Greg Brown, the chairman and CEO of Illinois-based Motorola Solutions, who works at the national level on immigration as the chair of the Business Roundtable Immigration Committee. He’s also a Republican.
“We appreciate President Obama’s commitment to improve our immigration system, but America’s needs can be met only through reform of our entire immigration system; executive action does not fix our broken immigration system,” Brown said.
Asked about Obama during a Springfield press conference, Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner, a Republican, declined any scorched rhetoric in his reply. “I believe very strongly in comprehensive immigration reform,” Rauner said, and he urged Congress and the president to “work together.”
Somewhere in this mess there may be common ground, once things calm down, which may take a while. I’d like to see the House Republicans from Illinois — none of whom has ever taken a lead on immigration issues in Congress, unlike their Illinois Democratic congressional counterparts — work with their Illinois GOP brothers and figure out a constructive move.