Under expansive executive actions unveiled by President Barack Obama Thursday night nearly 5 million people in the U.S. illegally will be spared from deportation.
The main beneficiaries are immigrants who have been in the U.S. illegally for more than five years but whose children are citizens or lawful permanent residents. After passing background checks and paying fees, those individuals can now be granted relief from deportation for three years and get work permits. The White House expects about 4.1 million people to qualify for those permits.
The president says deportations of criminals are up 80 percent. "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," he says.
"He said in his first time that the was going to deal with this issue. And He had the power in 2009 and 2010 when he had Congress. Let's be reminded this was done after the election. If the president felt any sense of urgency and compassion for these people, he could have done it before the election. He could have done it four years ago, six years ago. It's only a political move." Pastor Wilfredo DeJesus from New Life Covenant Church in Chicago shares his take on the President's recent executive order on immigration.
Defying Republicans in Congress who called on him to wait, the president used his office to take the most sweeping action on immigration in decades. He says his actions are legal and called on Congress to focus on passing lasting reform instead of wasting energy trying to block him.
Reacting from Capitol Hill, Speaker John Boehner says the president has ignored the will of the people. Polling shows Americans oppose the president addressing immigration reform through executive action.
"His 'my way or the highway' approach makes it harder to build the trust with the American people that is necessary to get things done on behalf of the country," Speaker Boehner says. "Republicans are left with the serious responsibility of upholding our oath of office. We will not shrink from this duty, because our allegiance lies with the American people. We will listen to them, work with our members, and protect the Constitution."
Republicans are considering a variety of actions that include lawsuits.
"Texans have witnessed firsthand the costs and consequences caused by President Obama's dictatorial immigration policy and now we must work together toward a solution in fixing our broken immigration system,” said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in a statement.
“I am prepared to immediately challenge President Obama in court, securing our state's sovereignty and guaranteeing the rule of law as it was intended under the Constitution,” he went on to say.
Although the big three television networks opted not to cover the address, Spanish networks Univision and Telemundo did carry it broadcasting to immigrants across the country who watched intently.
Although millions of illegal immigrants benefit from the president's actions, more than six million will not. Many Hispanic Evangelical pastors see the destruction deportations have on families in their congregations. Reverend Tony Suarez with the National Hispanic Leadership Conference tells CBN News he wants to see families stay together.
"Children have been losing their parents, spouses have been losing their husband or their wife. This is about family reunification, this is about bringing families that love the Lord, that believe in the value of life and marriage, to keep them together in this country that they really genuinely love," Rev. Suarez says.
President Obama referenced the Bible during his remarks saying, "Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger, we were strangers once, too."
Republicans have warned the president not to take any action that results in amnesty. The president responded, "Amnesty is the immigration system we have today - millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time," he said.
Friday the president travels to a high school in Las Vegas, Nevada to meet with students and sign his executive actions.