President Barack Obama lifts threat of deportation off five million immigrants

Executive action applauded but Republicans criticise 'power grab'

The immigration campaigners were gathered outside the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Los Angeles, where undocumented immigrants detained by the US authorities are housed while awaiting trial.

As Barack Obama prepared to address the nation, those on the street exchanged hopeful waves with the detainees in the windows several floors up, as they all waited to hear the President unveil the executive orders that could change their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

There are thought to be more than 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the US, and more in California than in any other state. Mr Obama’s new directive will protect around five million from the threat of deportation, and permit many to work legally. Among that number are approximately 3.7 million parents of US-born children.

In 2012, Mr Obama used his executive power to issue a memorandum, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), which offered a reprieve from deportation to around 1.2 million young, undocumented immigrants. His latest action expands that protection to at least 300,000 more who arrived in the country illegally as children.


Among the campaigners in downtown LA was Luis Ojeda, 24, an organiser with the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. Mr Ojeda was born in Mexico, arrived in California aged four and finally gained legal status thanks to Daca last year. His teenage sister was born in the US, meaning his parents are eligible for the new programme.

“This is a moment to celebrate. We’re glad that up to five million people are going to benefit,” he said. “But another six million are still going to live with the threat of deportation: anyone charged with a felony; anyone who doesn’t have siblings who are US citizens; anyone from the LGBT community and in a same-sex marriage but who doesn’t have children. Those people are going to be targeted in very unique ways.”

Mr Obama was due to appear at a rally in Las Vegas to roll out his plan yesterday. In his televised address the previous evening, he employed the oratorical skill for which he became known on the campaign trail, but which has scarcely been on display in the White House. “Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law?” he asked.

Immigrants attend a press conference for families facing deportation (Getty Images)

The President had long promised to take executive action on immigration enforcement, after lawmakers in Congress failed to agree on comprehensive legislation. Republicans were quick to criticise Mr Obama’s strategy, with California congressman Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, describing it as a “brazen power grab”.

House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement after the President’s speech that “by ignoring the will of the American people, President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left”. Some Republicans threatened to strike back by staging a government shutdown, like the one sparked last year by the President’s healthcare reforms.

Yet while the GOP may be united in opposition to Mr Obama, the party remains divided on an alternative approach to immigration reform.

In his speech, Mr Obama quote his Republican predecessor, George W Bush, saying immigrants “are a part of American life”. He went on: “The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every Democratic president for the past half-century. To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.”