Defying congressional Republicans and some skittish Democrats, President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order sparing up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation, the New York Times reports.
The president won't announce the order at least until he returns from an international trip next week, aides told the Times. But the question is no longer whether Obama will take executive action -- it's how expansive in scope the order will be.
According to administration officials, Obama is weighing a policy that would allow the unauthorized parents of American citizens or legal residents to remain in the country; the Migration Policy Institute estimates that such a plan could affect 3.3 million unauthorized residents who have lived in the country for at least five years.
Under a more stringent policy Obama is considering, only those who have lived in the country for 10 years would be spared deportation. That policy would affect 2.5 million people.
In addition, the president also plans to make it easier to highly skilled workers to remain in the U.S., pour more resources into border security, overhaul the Secure Communities enforcement program, and issue guidelines to agencies about which immigrants should be low priorities for deportation, the Times reports.
Obama has recently hinted at plans to take executive action on the issue, including in a post-election news conference last week. GOP House Speaker John Boehner, however, has declared that an executive order would "poison the well" and kill any chance that Congress could pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which the White House still seeks. But Boehner won't commit to even bringing an immigration bill up for a vote, and given that the crop of Republicans taking power next January is even further to the right than the current House GOP conference, the prospects for legislative action are grim.
Though Republicans have been among the harshest critics of a potential immigration executive order, some congressional Democrats have also been wary. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, told the Times that he feared an order would "create a backlash in the country that could actually set the cause back and inflame our politics."
But with Congress unlikely to act and Latinos growing increasingly disillusioned with Democrats on the issue, the policy and political risks of inaction are far greater than those of action. Despite earlier promises to act no later than this summer, Obama heeded the frenzied warnings of moderate and conservative Democrats and announced in September that he would delay a decision on an executive order until after the midterms. Activists decried the president's decision to punt, warning that Latinos would be less motivated to support Democrats in November. Last Tuesday, Latino turnout dipped to 8 percent, down from 10 percent in 2012, while Latino support for Democrats declined to 63 percent, compared with 71 percent who voted for Obama two years ago.