NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – President Barack Obama told the American people Thursday night that the time to change the nation’s immigration system is now, and he’s taking action to make that happen.
As CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, Obama is side-stepping Congress and using his executive power to make the changes.
In a nationally-broadcast address from the White House, Obama said it doesn’t make sense to round up and deport millions of people living in the country illegally. He said his plan will let them come out of the shadows, but it’s not anything close to amnesty.
The president announced that those who have been in America for more than five years or have children who are American citizens or legal residents and register, pass a criminal background check, and are willing to pay taxes will be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation.
Obama’s plan will shield from deportation nearly 5 million immigrants now in the U.S. illegally – including the parents of children born in the U.S., and those who have been in the country for more than five years.
However, the plan would leave the fate of millions more unresolved. With more than 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally, Obama’s actions would not offer specific protections to more than half.
The plan will also grant work permits, and extend the DREAM Act program for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
“If you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation,” Obama said.
Obama says that although there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children coming across the border over the summer, overall the number of people trying to cross the border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s.
“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,” he said.
Obama added: “The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every Democratic president for the past half-century. And to those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.”
At a viewing party in Chelsea, many cheered optimistically after Obama’s remarks. Among them was undocumented immigrant Jung Rae Jung, who came to America in 2005 from South Korea.
“We believe that it will give hope to the people who is in fear of deportation and people who wish to contribute to society,” Jung said.
Carlos Rojas’ father is undocumented and worried he might get picked up.
“It’s living every day with that fear,” he told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith.