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What You Need To Know: The President’s Actions on Immigration

Here's what you need to know about President Obama's new steps to fix our broken immigration system.

Everyone knows that our immigration system has been broken for decades. So, like many presidents before him, President Obama is taking new steps to do what he can to fix the system while the country waits for Republicans to Congress to act. 

1. So what are the actions the President is taking? 

President Obama is using his executive authority to fix as much of the broken system as he can, and ensure that everyone is held accountable and has the opportunity to play by the rules and contribute to the United States. You can read the full details of the plan here, but here's a breakdown of what the President’s plan will do: 

  • Continue to strengthen our border security by deploying more resources to bolster enforcement
  • Make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy
  • Hold more than 4 million undocumented immigrants accountable if they want to temporarily stay in the United States

For undocumented immigrants who are living in our country illegally, this is the deal: If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents; if you pass a criminal background check, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation and be required to pay taxes. 

2. Can he do that legally? 

Yes. The Constitution and the Immigration and Naturalization Act give the Executive Branch the authority to set enforcement priorities and to improve how agencies implement the law. The Supreme Court has agreed on this. It is that authority that has allowed presidents, Democrats and Republicans alike, to take action on immigration for more than half a century. 

3. So this isn't unprecedented? 

Quite the opposite. Every president since President Eisenhower has used his legal authority to act on immigration. The actions the President is taking are comparable to the actions President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush took. Here are a few examples of how presidents have used their authority to address immigration:

  • Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon granted parole to more than 600,000 Cuban refugees.
  • President Reagan provided relief to children whose parents were applying for legal status under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, even though they themselves had been excluded from the statute. This Family Fairness program affected more than 100,000 families.
  • President George H.W. Bush expanded the Family Fairness program to cover more than 1.5 million unauthorized spouses and children. This represented 40% of the undocumented population of roughly 3.5 million undocumented immigrants in the country at the time – approximately the same proportion as will be eligible under President Obama’s actions.

4. Aren't these actions just providing amnesty to people who have broken the law? 

No. The President is holding undocumented immigrants accountable for their actions. That is the opposite of amnesty. Amnesty is what we have today: a broken system where millions of people don’t register, don’t undergo criminal background checks, and don’t pay taxes. Now, more than 4 million undocumented immigrants can come out of the shadows and get right with the law while those who are threats to our security will be the focus of enforcement. As the President said, we will focus on deporting felons, not families; criminals, not children.

5. Ok, but won’t these actions open the flood gates for undocumented immigrants come to the U.S.?

No. A key part of the President’s actions includes continuing robust investments that are already strengthening our border security. In fact, the Obama administration’s investment in border technology, manpower, and resources represents the most serious and sustained action to secure our border in American history.

Over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Learn more about the President’s efforts here. These Executive Actions will not benefit immigrants who recently crossed the border, who may cross the border in the future, or who help those who cross in the future, but rather immigrants who have been living in the United States for years.

Here’s the bottom line: If you attempt to enter the United States illegally, your chances of getting caught and returned just went up.

6. But what about Congress? Do the President's actions make a comprehensive immigration reform unnecessary? 

No. The President’s actions are a first step, and he is committed to working with Congress to pass a bill that will deliver a long-lasting, permanent fix for the whole system. In fact,Democrats, Republicans, and Independents did pass a comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate more than 500 days ago. That bill would: 

  • Add 20,000 more Border Patrol agents to our border,
  • Crack down on companies who hire undocumented immigrants,
  • Provide a path to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants who pay a fine and taxes, pass a background check, learn English, and go to the back of the line, and
  • Boost our economy and keep families together by simplifying our legal immigration process.

Unfortunately, House Republicans have refused to bring it to a vote for more than 500 days. As the President said, "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."

To learn more about the President’s Executive Actions, go to: