US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has set a collision course with the Republicans after revealing controversial new plans to protect as many as five million immigrants living illegally from deportation.
Mr Obama – who has seen his party lose power of both the US Senate and Congress – is expected to fire a blunt message that he will not serve as a lame-duck president by introducing the policy as early as next week.
In doing so, he will undoubtably enrage the Republicans, who are pulling out all the stops to find a way to stop him in his tracks – even though the plan still falls some way short of what many immigration advocates had been demanding.
The president is determined to push through the executive action because he remains stung that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refused to pass a sweeping, bipartisan immigration bill approved by the Senate earlier this year.
The president has already hinted that Congress could simply undo his executive actions by passing comprehensive immigration legislation.
In a speech during his visit to Yangon, in Burma, yesterday, Mr Obama said: “I would advise that if in fact they want to take a different approach, rather than devote a lot of time trying to constrain my lawful actions as the chief executive of the US government in charge of enforcing our immigrations laws, that they spend some time passing a bill.”
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Republican leaders have warned that such unilateral action by Mr Obama would only darken the prospects of Congress passing immigration legislation. And they argue that it sends the wrong signal to voters who gave Republicans control of the Senate and expanded their majority in the House in mid-term elections last week.
House speaker John Boehner said: “We’re going to fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down this path. This is the wrong way to govern. This is exactly what the American people said on election day they didn’t want.”
The gamble is clear. If the House and Senate close ranks to push for the kind of must-pass language spending bills to block the president from acting, it could result in the kind of unpopular government shutdown that blighted Mr Obama’s health care plan last year.
Mr Obama has pledged to move on the measures by the end of the year, and White House officials are debating whether to act soon after he returns this weekend from his trip to Asia and Australia or wait until after Congress approves a spending bill in December.
Democrats will not relinquish control of the Senate until the new Congress takes office in January.
A senior Obama administration official said the immigration announcement could come next week, but the president had not made a decision yet either about timing or content of the decision.
Several officials said Mr Obama still has not received formal recommendations from Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson, but they said Mr Obama is well acquainted with the realm of possibilities.
The five million estimate includes extending deportation protection to parents and spouses of US citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for some years.
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