President Obama told Americans Saturday that his action granting legal status and work permits to nearly 5 million illegal immigrants is “certainly not amnesty, no matter how often critics say it.”
“Amnesty is the immigration system we have today — millions of people living here without paying their taxes, or playing by the rules,” Mr. Obama said in his weekly address. “And the actions I took this week will finally start fixing that.”
The president signed documents Friday that will shield nearly half of the illegal immigrants in the U.S. from deportation. Mr. Obama said he was forced to take the action because House Republicans have refused to vote on a Senate-passed immigration reform bill for more than a year and a half.
“Had the House of Representatives allowed a yes-or-no vote on that kind of bill, it would have passed with support from both parties. Today it would be the law,” Mr. Obama said. “But for a year and a half, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote.”
Congressional Republicans, who warned the president not to take such action, are considering a range of options to oppose his move, from holding up funding bills to blocking his nominations in the Senate.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican who is in line to become Budget Committee chairman in January, said Mr. Obama’s action disregarded the interests of U.S. citizens.
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“It’s time for us to stand up for the American worker, for a change,” Mr. Sessions said in a speech Friday. “One thing you didn’t hear … in the president’s remarks was any concern about recent immigrants’ salaries; American workers’ difficulties finding a job, [or] the steady decline in wages that have occurred in this country… A nation owes things to its people. It owes responsibility and fidelity to their interests. Who’s representing them? … If you want to be able to lead the American people, you should serve their interests.”
The president took his go-it-alone immigration policy on the road Friday, holding a campaign-style rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Hispanics are a growing an influential voting bloc. Mr. Obama will also travel to his hometown of Chicago Tuesday to discuss his immigration action with community leaders.
Presidential senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Mr. Obama is planning a “very aggressive sales job” to promote the new immigration rules and to urge Congress to pass a new immigration law.
“We will be making the case about what we did, and the need for Congress to finish the job,” Mr. Pfeiffer said.