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Administration's immigration announcement presents challenges to Republicans, Obama

Iowa Rep. Steve King plans to sue administration to halt implementation

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 4:57 p.m. MDT

The Obama administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives. (Associated Press) The Obama administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives. (Associated Press)

Related: 'Dreamers' rejoice in Obama's order to halt deportations of young illegal immigrants

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The Obama administration's decision Friday to halt deportations and to begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrations who came to the U.S. as children inspired both jubilation and dismay.

The changes were unveiled in a memo by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and specified that the following criteria would be used to identify who would be eligible for the changed policy:

The individual came to the U.S. under the age of 16

The individual has continuously resided in the U.S. for at least five years preceding the date of the memo and is present in the U.S. on the date of the memo

The individual is currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development certificate, or is honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or armed forces of the United States

The individual has not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety

The individual is not above the age of thirty

"Our nation's immigration laws must be enforced in a strong and sensible manner. They are not designed to blindly enforce without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case," the memo said. "Prosecutorial discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here."

The switch in policy comes a little more than a year after President Barack Obama told an audience at Univision network's Latino youth town hall that he was obliged to follow U.S. laws regarding deportation and could not use an executive order to change things.

"There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply, through executive order, ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president," Obama said.

Those who stand to benefit from the policy change expressed sentiments like, "I can breathe," the Los Angeles Times reported. Beginning Wednesday, undocumented immigrant students have been staging sit-ins at Obama campaign offices around the country, asking him to support the DREAM Act, which would grant children of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

Jose Luis Zelaya told CNN that he was electrified by the news.

"It's just insane," Zelaya said. "I've been working on this for six years. It is just overwhelming."

“At the beginning I sort of didn’t believe it,” said Justino Mora, a 22-year-old undocumented immigrant who is studying at the University of California, Los Angles, “but then almost immediately I was overwhelmed by a sense of joy. It gives me hope. It motivates me to continue fighting for my family, for my community.”

The Obama administration will likely deny that politics played a role in the announcement, Matt Negrin wrote at ABC News, but the timing is ideal for Obama's re-election campaign.

"Obama's announcement today is likely to curry favor with Hispanics, a key growing voting bloc that could determine the winner in November in important states like Florida, Colorado and Nevada," Negrin reported. "The president beats Romney among Hispanics in polls, but most Latinos say they disapprove of Obama's deportation policy."

Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, called the decision "very good news for one million young people who have a dream of staying in the country where they have lived most of their lives." Sojourners, a national Christian organization committed to social justice, joined 140 evangelical leaders this week to urge leaders to respect immigrants' humanity while crafting immigration policy.

"This is an important step but only a beginning toward comprehensive reform of an utterly broken immigration system," Wallis said in a statement.

Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council, praised the decision as a "responsible" and "compassionate" compromise. While Congress continues to discuss more permanent solutions — which he hopes includes a path to citizenship — undocumented young people will not have to "languish," he said in a statement.

"Everyone benefits from this plan: the young people whose futures will no longer be on hold, the members of Congress from both parties who are interested in developing real solutions and the public who deserve a more meaningful conversation on immigration," he said.

The move creates three challenges for Republicans. The first is that the announcement may undermine Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's reported work on a bill that was meant to serve as the Republican's alternative to the DREAM Act.

A second challenge for Republicans is how to frame the change in policy. Greg Sargent at The Washington Post suggested that many Republicans will stick to objecting to the process under which the change was made.

"This is a classic Barack Obama move of choosing politics over leadership," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Twitter. "President Obama's attempt to go around Congress and the American people is at best unwise and possibly illegal ... . President Obama avoids the hard work of fixing an immigration system which is broken and fractured along numerous fronts."

"This is yet another example of executive branch overreach," Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., said. "We have a legislative process that ensures representative government by the consent of the American people. This action should be crafted into legislation, debated in committee and brought before the House and Senate for vote, with accordance of our constitutional republic way. Secretary Napolitano is an unelected administrative bureaucrat who does not have the right to make governing decisions for this country."

"If you want an example of why conservatives don’t believe President Obama’s overtures about working with them, and why he actually is making partisanship worse in this country while he claims to want the opposite, look no further than his administration’s new policy toward 'low priority' illegal immigrants," wrote Kyle Wingfield in an editorial for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "What the administration has done here is short-circuit the legislative process and make a mockery of the idea that he wants to reach compromises with those who think differently about immigration policy."

The third challenge is that by making this announcement, the Obama administration may try to drive Romney into what Philip Klein of The Washington Examiner calls "the immigration trap," where Romney comes out swinging against the policy and the Obama campaign gets to paint him as being anti-Hispanic.

Republicans aren't the only ones who may see troubles arise from the policy action, however. With as many as 800,000 immigrants granted the ability to work legally, the change may also present a tough sell for the president while dealing with a weak economy where unemployment stands at 8.2 percent, Hispanic unemployment is higher at 11 percent, the labor force participation rate stands at a 30-year low and seven in 10 U.S. teens are jobless for the summer.

Numbers USA, a leading advocacy group pushing for tougher immigration laws, took it a step further, declaring the decision "unconstitutional."

“President Obama thwarted the will of Congress and shunned the 20 million under- and unemployed Americans by announcing he will grant work permits to 2 (million to) 3 million illegal workers,” group president Roy Beck told the Los Angeles Times. “Congress on three occasions rejected DREAM Act amnesties in part to help unemployed workers born here or who came here legally.”

The move may also limit the ability for Congress and the nation to embrace full immigration reform, Matt Lewis wrote at The Daily Caller.

"I am convinced that America needs to have a serious national discussion about immigration reform. Short-circuiting the legislative process deprives us of that organic discussion. It also guarantees there will be no bipartisan consensus," Lewis said. "Perhaps Rubio could have persuaded more conservatives to back common sense reforms? The water is now poisoned. Obama — for transparently political purposes — has made sure that conservatives and Republicans will feel slighted and kept out of the loop. That's because they have been."

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, the vice-chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, said on Mike Huckabee's radio program Friday that he would sue the Obama administration to halt the implementation of its new illegal immigration enforcement policy. King previously sued former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack over legislating by executive order and won the case. Vilsack is now Obama's Secretary of Agriculture.

"I will tell you that — I'm not without experience on this — I'm prepared to bring a suit and seek a court order to stop implementation of this policy," King said.

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