Obama emphasized in his address that he is instead pushing for the accountability of undocumented immigrants.
"That's the real amnesty—leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I'm describing is accountability—a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law," the president said. "If you're a criminal, you'll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up."
The three main elements of the actions will be cracking down on illegal immigration at the border; deporting felons, but not families; and establishing criminal background checks and taxes for undocumented immigrants.
"By registering and passing criminal and national security background checks, millions of undocumented immigrants will start paying their fair share of taxes and temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation for three years at a time," the White House release said.
If undocumented immigrants submit to these background checks, register with the government, pay fees and show they have a child born in the U.S., then they "will have the opportunity to request temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for three years at a time."
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These reforms will actually make it more difficult to enter the country without documentation, Obama said, but some did not agree. Texas Governor Rick Perry said in a statement that Obama's "decision tonight will lead to more illegal immigration, not less."
Obama addressed critics of the plan, explaining that "tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn't realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn't being straight with you."
"By providing individuals with an opportunity to come out of the shadows and work legally, we will also help crack down on companies who hired undocumented workers, which undermines the wages of all workers, and ensure that individuals are playing by the rules and paying their fair share of taxes," the release said.
The president's executive actions will also expand the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The rule currently offers temporary relief from deportation to children who had been in the country for at least five years and meet certain criteria. Now, anyone who came to the U.S. as a child can apply if they entered before Jan. 1, 2010—no matter how old they are now. The White House also said that DACA relief will be granted for three years in the country going forward.
Obama's reforms will also cover a wide swath of issues related to immigration such as shifting more resources to the border, streamlining the immigration court process, and implementing a new Priority Enforcement Program that removes criminals. Additionally, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson will issue a memorandum making "clear that the government's enforcement activity should be focused on national security threats, serious criminals, and recent border crossers," as opposed to families.
Still, some politicians said that Obama's plan is not dealing sufficiently with undocumented entry into the country. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement that "the right way to do it is to first bring illegal immigration under control by securing the borders and enforcing the laws, then modernizing our legal immigration system."
In his address, Obama cited scripture's call "that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger."
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While the reforms are sure to be praised by those attending the Friday rally in Las Vegas, many across the country are less favorable of a unilateral decision on the matter.
A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found that just 38 percent of Americans support executive action by the president on immigration without Congressional approval.
"We've always believed it should be done by Congressional action—it's more of a consensus way to do it," said Russell Boening, a dairy farmer based south of San Antonio who has lobbied Washington for immigration reform for years as the state director for the Texas Farm Bureau. "That's the right way to do it."