President Barack Obama announced in late November his plans to reform the immigration system by means of executive action; a move that was sure to enrage congressional Republicans. The central component of Obama’s plan will spare from deportation undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, along with those who are parents of US citizens.

In an effort to dispel the sentiment that he was granting mass amnesty, Obama said, “The real amnesty is leaving this broken system the way it is.” Obama went on to defend his move in a prime time address, saying “What I’m describing is accountability – a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.”

Aside from granting a reprieve from deportation to some five million undocumented immigrants, Obama’s executive action will also expand the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), to protect undocumented immigrants over the age of thirty. Previously, DACA allowed immigrants under the age of thirty who arrived in the United States as children to apply for a deportation deferral. Immigrants who fall under either category will have to reapply for a deferral every three years.

In total, the president’s executive actions have the potential to affect around five million of eleven million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused the president of blatantly abusing his power, saying “If President Obama acts in defiance of the people and imposes his will on the country, Congress will act.”

Immigration Reform

House Republicans shared in McConnell’s aversion to the president’s executive action, with Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said in a press conference, “With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek.” Boehner continued, saying that the executive action is “a serious breach of our Constitution. It’s a serious threat to our system of government.”

In response, Obama claimed that his actions were justified after years of inaction by House Republicans, who have refused to allow a vote on a bipartisan immigration bill which was passed by the Senate last year. The bill was sponsored by a bipartisan group of eight Senators known as the “Gang of Eight.” The group, which includes Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, is comprised of some of the most influential Senators from both parties.

Despite both of Arizona’s Senators taking initiative and pressing for comprehensive immigration reform, there is no consensus between them and officials at the state level. Governor Jan Brewer announced last week that Arizona would join 17 other states in suing President Obama. The lawsuit is led by Greg Abbott, the current Attorney General and governor-elect of Texas. Abbott contends that President Obama’s executive order violates constitutional limits on presidential power.

The Obama Administration is confident that the executive order will be upheld in court, citing prior rulings that have given the executive branch leeway when determining how to enforce laws regarding immigration and deportation.