President Barack Obama laid out a massive new immigration plan that will protect nearly five million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The announcement came in a speech Thursday night where Obama said he would prefer to work with Congress to come up with a permanent solution that could replace Thursday's action.
"I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution," he said.
The program in part piggybacks off of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protected some immigrants who came to the United States as minors.
The plan also will protect immigrants who have been here at least 5 years and whose children are citizens or have green cards.
The plan, however, excludes the parents of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors. The plan also is not a path to citizenship, which is something only Congress can authorize. The protections also are not permanent legal status.
The plan also does not apply to those who come into the country recently, though Obama did not elaborate on how recently. The plan also does not apply for those who come into the country illegally in the future.
The plans call for immigration officers to focus deportation efforts on felons.
"Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable — especially those who may be dangerous," he said. "That's why, over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 percent. And that's why we're going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who's working hard to provide for her kids. We'll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day."
Obama said the change is not "amnesty."
"Amnesty is the immigration system we have today—millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules," he said.
Obama said it is not practical to deport the millions of undocumented workers in the United States.
"Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I'm describing is accountability -- a commonsense, middle ground approach," Obama said.
"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."
Obama stressed that the plan includes beefed up border security and will include more resources for law enforcement as well as a smoother transition for skilled laborers, graduates and entrepreneurs.
Republicans have claimed Obama’s moves are an executive overreach.
“President Obama’s politically motivated executive order is unprecedented,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a news release on the RNC website. “If he believed that his actions were urgent and that he had the Constitutional authority all along, why didn’t he think so for the last six years of his presidency?”
Republicans take over the Senate in January after winning a slew of seats in November elections.