Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Country Anticipates Obama's Immigration Announcement

President Obama is expected to announce steps today that would provide temporary relief to some of the 12 million immigrants in the country illegally. Republicans are warning him against acting unilaterally on the issue.
Carolyn Kaster AP
President Obama is expected to announce steps today that would provide temporary relief to some of the 12 million immigrants in the country illegally. Republicans are warning him against acting unilaterally on the issue.

You can watch Obama's speech live online, on KPBS TV or listen on 89.5 FM

Where To Follow Obama's Immigration Announcement

Web: KPBS.org will stream the president's speech online and provide live text updates. You can also follow @KPBSNews for live tweets.

TV: You can watch Obama's remarks live on TV on channel 1011 at 5p.m. Live analysis on KPBS Evening Edition will follow at 6:30 p.m.

Radio: Tune to 89.5 FM or stream online to hear NPR analysis from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Country Anticipates Obama's Immigration Announcement
San Diegans Anticipate Obama's Immigration GUESTS:Andrea Guerrero, executive director, Alliance San DiegoTodd Garcia Van Boxtel, past board member of the Latino American Political Association (LAPA)

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story on mid-day edition. President Obama's long awaited announcement on executive action on immigration reform is set for tonight, but we apparently already know some things about it. It's widely assumed the president will expand its 2012 deferred action plan that shielded many young immigrants from deportation. An additional five million people living in the U S illegally could be spared from deportation at least temporarily. But even before the immigration plan has been officially announced it is being denounced by critics mainly because of the president's choice to use his executive authority without action from congress. I would like to introduce my guests Andrea Guerra is executive director of Alliance San Diego. Andrea, welcome. ANDREA GUERRA: Thank you. It's wonderful to be here. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Todd Garcia VanBoxtel is past board member of the Latino American Political Association also with the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. Todd, welcome to the show. TODD GARCIA VANBOXTEL: Thanks for having me. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Andrea, what are you hoping to hear from the president tonight? ANDREA GUERRA: We're hoping to hear an expansion of DOMA and an extension of some kind of administrative relief to the parents of U.S. citizens and lawful (INAUDIBLE) children. This will come go a long way in protecting families keeping them together and making sure that they are safe while congress debates this important issue. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Early word is that the president will not expand the deferred action for childhood arrivals to the parents of those younger people who are covered by that action. Would that be a disappointment? ANDREA GUERRA: It is a disappointment. Think the president is using his executive authority where he feels that authority is unsalable and he is doing with the parents of U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident children. We would have liked him to push the envelope and extend his authority to more of the undocumented families that are in threat of deportation now, but we appreciate what he has done. This is an enormous step forward for this country. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Todd, I believe I understand that you oppose the president's plan to change the way immigration law is informed; do you think the president immigration system is working? TODD GARCIA VANBOXTEL: I think it's hard to find anyone that agrees with the current status of our immigration policy, but it is more of why the president is taking this action now and taking what he said was action that he couldn't take just a few months ago. And he said it several times over the years. I'm afraid this is a pure political play and it actually could make more difficult for us to come with comprehensive solution that will need to go through congress. So it's disappointing. It's kind of a poke in the eye with the republicans which he has to work with to come to a solution we all want. We want to change existing programs in place but I don't think this really advances it very well. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: President Regan, both presidents Bush used executive action to change the enforcement of immigration law which is sort of exactly what president Obama is apparently going to be doing this evening during his speech. So why does invoking this same authority as those presidents poke someone in the eye? TODD GARCIA VANBOXTEL: And I do think that he probably does have the authority to not prosecute and delay deportation and so he is within his rights there. I think that he could have done this a month ago, done this six months ago. Done any of the previous six years during that time he told us that he didn't have the authority to do something like this, so to do this now in this lame duck congress session is nothing more than saying I'm not going to work with you guys, before I do I'm going to stick this to you and then make you react to it. And I think it gets us off on the wrong foot so yes I think he has the authority to postpone deportations which is probably a good thing, but he doesn't have the right to issue workers permits and really solve the solutions that people are facing and families are facing today. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What Andrea are the problems you see in changing enforcement by executive authority; because as Todd points out it really does not change the law. ANDREA GUERRA: The president has executive authority to exercise discretion over enforcement and he is doing, as you pointed out, what all other presidents have done before him. He is entirely within his right to do so. He is responding to the very real human crisis that is going on in this country. The fact that one thousand families are separated every single day because of deportation or enforcement regime that is not exercising sufficient discretion and tearing apart fathers and mothers from U S citizen children and other children in this country - that is incredibly damaging to our communities here in San Diego. There are very real examples of children coming to school and having to report to their friends that their parents didn't come home the night before because they were picked up at work or on the way home and they were departed. Here in San Diego deportation can happen within an hour, so these are very real concerns the president is responding to. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Even so, if this announcement tonight does expand DOMA, it's only temporary, right? ANDREA GUERRA: That's right. This is a band aid solution and it's all the president can do within his authority. He can only temporary protect families from deportation and keep them together while congress provides a more permanent solution. And he has said (CHECK AUDIO) he will make way for any bill or legislation that congress brings to his desk, unfortunately congress has brought him nothing in the last 580 days. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think Andrea speaks to the frustration, Todd, of a lot of people that do support the president's action tonight. That is the senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill more than a year ago and the republican leadership in the house still has not allowed the members of the House of Representatives to vote on that bill; so is this a question of a problem with congress rather than the president? TODD GARCIA VANBOXTEL: I think it's a problem of the status of the politics in this country because immigration is a very important subject. There is tons of economic bills that have (CHECK AUDIO) in the senate because Harry Reid chose not to put it up for a vote. So we're in a tough time to get policies through. It's very political. I think interesting, with the resent election, there was already pressure to the republicans on how the republicans to say okay how are you going to solve this problem because now they have both houses. And I think the republicans have gone on record saying this is something we want to address. Various business constituents within the republican party that want a solution, so again it's hard to find anyone that is okay with the status quo. I think the pressure is on the republicans to get something done. But I think, I'm afraid, maybe tonight's actions really doesn't create a partnership. It kind of agitates the situation and there is really no consultation - it's take it or leave it. And if he does try to over step his bounds by saying we're going to issue work permits or something the president doesn't have the right to do, it can make things harder rather than easier. Unfortunately for the families that face this every day, today whether it's enacted Friday or Monday it doesn't bring them out of the shadows and that is the problem; families are living in the shadows and their status will not change. It just means the likelihood of them being departed and separated might be less, but they surely should not come out to their employer and say I'm here - because there will not be any documentation included in this; that's a problem the status quo isn't going to change very much and that's what we're concerned about. We're really not advancing the ball very far. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A let me give you a chance to respond to what Todd said. ANDREA GUERRA: Yeah, I want to correct what Todd is saying. The existing federal regulation allows for individuals who have temporary protected status or deferred action or any of the variations of these programs that exist now allows them to have work authorization, so this is part in parcel of what will be extended to the people who are eligible for this program. So it is again within the president's authority. It's been exercised by nearly every president before him, certainly every republican president before him for the last 50 years. And the reason why this is important to all of us is because we want individuals to come out of the shadows. We want them to feel safe. They will not be living in the shadows and we saw this with the dreamers - they are not living in the shadows they came forward got work permits, drivers licenses and now they are extremely productive members of our society without having to live in fear of whether they are going to be deported that is exactly what we want. We want folks to feel safe while waiting for congress to fix the broken immigration system and we want them to be able to contribute to the tax base and to contribute to our economy and our society as they are already doing. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Andrea, another thing the president could do tonight is reallocate resources to address a backlog of legal procedures at the border; tell us why that is needed. ANDREA GUERRA: Our courts here in the border region have a tremendous backlog. We do not have enough immigration judges in this country, certainly not in this region and so we don't know if that will be part of the president's program, but certainly that would be welcome. I think we're not going to see any new resources we're just going to see a reallocation of resources. That's within his authority. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Todd, the conservative think tank, the heritage foundation is urging republicans not to pass a budget next month and consequently shut down the federal government in response to the president's executive action on immigration; do you agree with that tactic? TODD GARCIA VANBOXTEL: No. I think we should avoid any government shut down. But as the president is exercising his rights tonight, I don't think that, you know, obviously again in this game of politics the congress can act in what they see as fit and everyone takes the political fallout. There will be fallout from the actions taken tonight. If republicans say we're going to shut things down there will be political fallout from that. Unfortunately we're going it to see games being played, I doubt a government shutdown but a piecemeal approach to a budget. Games being played, I doubt, but a piecemeal approach to a budget. Then the president will have to decide whether or not he will sign certain things because the republicans pass it in a piecemeal-type situation. So again I wish tonight -- I don't have a problem starting a conversation which is what we should do, but the approach and the agitation being caused when hey we have a brand new congress we couldn't wait another month. We've been waiting six years because this was supposed to happen in the first hundred days of this administration. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I guess the supporters of this administration of the president on this might counter that. You know there has been an awful lot of time that has already gone by without the republicans in the congress coming together with a cohesive plan to counter if they don't like the senate bill; do you see anything like that happening? TODD GARCIA VANBOXTEL: Oh yeah. And I think there hasn't been a program passed although there was one in the house that died in the senate. I think with many of the issues of today there are solutions being proposed. The thing is that we need parties to work together so that we come up with a bill that has the most votes. So to say the republicans haven't proposed a guest working program and expanded enforcement and expanded guest worker programs and different ways to solve some of those solutions is false, but the problem is it hasn't been put in package to where both republicans and democrats get behind, so we're talking about politics. And I said I think tonight is a lot about politics because again it falls between an election and a new congress. It doesn't get any more political than this. This could have been done a month or two months ago. You surely couldn't can expect the republicans to do anything between our November election and tonight. But the pressure is on the congress now controlled by the republicans to get something done. And I think you will see that, but it will probably be in a piece by piece solution because it doesn't necessarily have to be comprehensive as we have to comprehend whatever the new rules are. We have to understand them so they can be fall code implemented. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Taking up on Todd's taking about politics Andrea, this reaction by republicans has been an awful lot of talk about shutting down the government in response to the executive action taken by the president. If there remains this kind of reactions by republicans, especially the House of Representatives, do you think that is going to affect their chances politically in 2016? ANDREA GUERRA: Absolutely. Congress has a 13 percent approval rating right now; that's one of the lowest we've ever seen. With the republican leadership that shuts down government and fails to bring a bill, I think that there will be repercussions too. To be clear the republicans have not brought any bill in the house to a floor vote. None. Zero. They've only gone through committee but Speaker Boehner has not allowed any bill to come to the floor. Todd's point about whether this is a political move or not, no it's a move of compassion. Wait another 30 days - that's 30 thousand more families that get separated and pulled apart. We're on the precipice of a week of thanksgiving a week which we separate our families. We're proud and emotional about bringing them together. What better time for the president to act to protect families. TODD GARCIA VANBOXTEL: I would say then the president waited the last two months that meant 60 thousand families were affected over waiting these two months MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're going to have to end it there. I know you both will be watching and listening tonight as will we. Thank you both very much. ANDREA GUERRA: Thank you. TODD GARCIA VANBOXTEL: Thank you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: K P B S will broadcast the president's address on immigration today at five on K P B S radio and television. Coming up the U C regents meeting this hour and they voted to approve a multi-year tuition increase. It's 12:21. You're listening to K P B S mid-day edition.

Advertisement

President Barack Obama is poised to claim broad authority to grant work permits to millions of immigrants living illegally in the United States and to protect them from deportation. But Republicans are vowing an all-out fight against it.

"Congress will act," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned on the Senate floor Thursday, hours before Obama's 8 p.m. EST address.

Obama "will come to regret" his action, McConnell said. "We're considering a variety of options. But make no mistake. When the newly elected representatives of the people take their seats, they will act."

Obama's measures could make as many as 5 million people eligible for work permits, with the broadest action likely aimed at extending deportation protections to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, as long as those parents have been in the country for at least five years.

Other potential winners under Obama's actions would be young immigrants who entered the country illegally as children but do not now qualify under a 2012 directive from the president that's expected to be expanded. Changes also are expected to law enforcement programs and business visas.

Advertisement

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.

Still, Obama was expected to ensure that many of those not covered — immigrants who have lived illegally in the U.S. for 10 years or more or parents of citizens or permanent residents who have been in the country fewer than five years — would be given a lower priority for deportation, essentially sanctioning what is already current practice.

"What I'm going to be laying out is the things that I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system better, even as I continue to work with Congress and encourage them to get a bipartisan, comprehensive bill that can solve the entire problem," Obama said in a video posted Wednesday on Facebook.

On Thursday, Obama discussed the need for an overhaul of the immigration system in the context of science and technology, saying the U.S. benefits from innovations and discoveries by scientists and researchers who come here to pursue their work.

"Part of staying competitive in a global economy is making sure we have an immigration system that doesn't send away talent but attracts it," Obama said at a White House ceremony recognizing achievements in science, technology and innovation. "So that's what I'll be talking about a little bit tonight."

But the vehement reactions of Republicans, who will have control of Congress come January, made clear that Obama was courting a serious partisan confrontation.

Some on the right pushed for using must-pass spending legislation to try to stop Obama's effort. One lawmaker — Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama — raised the specter of impeachment.

Party leaders warned against such talk and sought to avoid spending-bill tactics that could lead to a government shutdown. They said such moves could backfire, alienating Hispanic voters and others.

In a closed-door meeting with other Senate Republicans, McConnell urged restraint. Still, there were concerns among some Republicans that the potential 2016 presidential candidates in the Senate would use the announcement to elevate their standing, challenging Obama directly.

And as far-reaching as Obama's steps would be, they fall far short of what a comprehensive immigration overhaul passed by the Senate last year would have accomplished. The House never voted on that legislation. It would have set tougher border security standards, increased caps for visas for foreign high-skilled workers and allowed the 11 million immigrants illegally in the country to obtain work permits and begin a 10-year path toward green cards and, ultimately, citizenship.

"This is not the way we want to proceed. It will not solve the problem permanently," White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri said Thursday on MSNBC.

None of those affected by Obama's actions would have a direct path to citizenship, and his actions could be reversed by a new president after he leaves office. Moreover, officials said the eligible immigrants would not be entitled to federal benefits — including health care tax credits — under Obama's plan.

Some immigrant advocates worried that even though Obama's actions would make millions eligible for work permits, not all would participate out of fear that Republicans or a new president would reverse the executive orders.

"If the reaction to this is that the Republicans are going to do everything they can to tear this apart, to make it unworkable, the big interesting question will be, will our folks sign up knowing that there is this cloud hanging over it," said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza.

Still, Democrats battered by election losses two weeks ago welcomed Obama's steps.

"The last two weeks haven't been great weeks for us," said Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, one of 18 congressional Democrats who had dinner Wednesday night with Obama. "The president is about to change that."

Corrected: September 27, 2021 at 9:34 AM PDT
KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane and Tarryn Mento contributed to this story.