President Obama will ignore angry protests from Republicans and announce as soon as next week a broad overhaul of the nation's immigration enforcement system that will protect up to five million unauthorized immigrants from the threat of deportation and provide many of them with work permits, according to administration officials who have direct knowledge of the plan.
Asserting his authority as president to enforce the nation's laws with discretion, Mr.Obama intends to order changes that will significantly refocus the activities of the government's 12,000 immigration agents. One key piece of the order,officials said, will allow many parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents to obtain legal work documents and no longer worry about being discovered, separated from their families and sent away.
That part of Mr. Obama's plan alone could affect as many as 3.3 million people who have been living in the United States illegally for at least five years, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, an immigration research organization in Washington. But the White House is also considering a stricter policy that would limit the benefits to people who have lived in the country for at least 10 years, or about 2.5 million people.
Extending protections to more undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, and to their parents, could affect an additional one million or more if they are included in the final plan that the president announces. White House officials are also still debating whether to include protections for farm workers who have entered the country illegally but have been employed for years in the agriculture industry, a move that could affect hundreds of thousands of people.
Mr. Obama's actions will also expand opportunities for legal immigrants who have high-tech skills, shift extra security resources to the nation's southern border, revamp a controversial immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities,and provide clearer guidance to the agencies that enforce immigration laws about who should be a low priority for deportation, especially those with strong family ties and no serious criminal history.
A new memorandum, which will direct the actions of enforcement and border agents and immigration judges, will make clear that deportations should still proceed for convicted criminals, foreigners who pose national security risks and recent border crossers, officials said.
White House officials declined to comment publicly before a formal announcement by Mr. Obama, who will return from an eight-day trip to Asia on Sunday.Administration officials said details about the package of executive actions were still being finished and could change. An announcement could be pushed off until next month but will not be delayed to next year, officials said.
Announcing the actions quickly could hand critics like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas a specific target to attack, but it would also give immigration advocates something to defend. Waiting until later in December could allow the budget to be approved before setting off a fight over immigration.
"Before the end of the year,we're going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system," Mr. Obama said during a news conference a day after last week's midterm elections. "What I'm not going to do is just wait."
The decision to move forward sets in motion a political confrontation between Mr. Obama and his Republican adversaries that is likely to affect budget negotiations and the debate over Loretta E. Lynch, the president's nominee to be attorney general, during the lame-duck session of Congress that began this week.