WASHINGTON — President Obama is considering an executive order that would prevent as many as 5 million people from being deported, administration officials said Thursday.
But the officials — speaking on condition of anonymity, citing internal deliberations — said the details of the immigration plan are still being developed and called reports of specific action “pre-decisional.”
The New York Times, citing anonymous administration officials, reported Thursday that a key part of the plan would allow immigrant parents of American citizen children to apply for work authorizations that would allow them to stay in the country. The newspaper said the order could come as soon as next week, when President Obama returns from a week-long trip to Asia.
And Fox News reported that a draft of the administration plan includes 10 proposals, including increased border security, improved pay for immigration officers and expanded “deferred action” on immigrant children and their parents. Fox News cited a source “close to the White House” who had seen the draft.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed Thursday that Obama recently met with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who has been charged with drafting a plan for Obama’s approval. But Earnest said no decision had been made about the timing or the substance of the executive orders.
“And I would anticipate that the president will receive some final recommendations from the secretary relatively soon, but certainly not before the conclusion of his trip to Asia,” Earnest said in Burma, where Obama is attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit.
The plan is less ambitious than the proposal that passed the Senate last year, which would have given legal status to as many as 8 million undocumented immigrants. That plan stalled in the House, where Republicans say it amounts to amnesty for people who entered or stayed in the country illegally.
The president has pledged to take action by the end of the year, but other priorities in the lame duck session of Congress could complicate the timing. Congress must pass a new spending bill by Dec. 11 to avoid a shutdown, and Obama has also asked for additional funding to fight Ebola and the Islamic State.
Republicans in Congress, who will control both the House and Senate next year, have warned Obama that unilateral executive action on immigration could poison the well for bipartisan cooperation in the last two years of his presidency.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., clamped down on speculation that Republicans could use an upcoming government funding bill to confront Obama on immigration by defunding agencies charged with carrying out an executive order. Such a move could threaten another government shutdown in December.
“We will not be shutting the government down,” McConnell told reporters. He said the president’s decision to move forward oversteps his authority and rejects the message of the midterm elections which saw considerable GOP gains in both chambers.
“We’d like for the president to recognize the reality that he has to govern with the Congress that he has, not the one that he wishes he had, and work with us to try to find a way to improve our immigration system,” McConnell said.
But immigrant rights advocates have also been upset with Obama for delaying action — originally expected by the end of the summer — until after the congressional elections.
Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said he was unimpressed with the latest “trial balloon.”
“We need less leaks and more action from within the White House,” he said. “As far as we’re concerned, the rumors reported in the Times and by Fox change nothing. They are rumors.”
The plan also leaves out a huge chunk of undocumented immigrants that could be protected from deportation — those who have lived in the United States for extended periods of time. Democrats, and even some Republicans like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have argued that those undocumented immigrants have established themselves in the country, maintained jobs and contributed the most to their communities.
“They’re leaving opportunity on the table,” said Clarissa Martínez De Castro of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group that has advised the White House on its executive action plan throughout the year.
“I know there’s concern that this executive action was going to be attacked,” she said. “But even if they do 100 people, they’re going to be attacked the same. So why not go bolder?”