President Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration

President Obama addressed the nation in a prime time speech Nov. 20 to define his executive action on immigration. In a highly anticipated move, the president’s executive order has focused the nation on the future of U.S. immigration policy and aims to encourage Congress to pass comprehensive legislation. Congressional and some state leaders have threatened law suits, impeachment, and a government shutdown over the President's executive order.

Executive Order

The president’s executive order aims to enhance border security, provide deportation relief for five million immigrants, prioritize certain immigrants for deportation, and streamline the immigration process.

  • Border Security: The order calls for (1) the Department of Homeland Security to establish the Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Plan, (2) the Department of Justice to introduce immigration court reforms to reduce the backlog of pending court cases in coordination with DHS to adjudicate those individuals who meet certain requirements, and (3) the U.S. government to marshal resources for border security more efficiently.
  • Deportation Relief: The order provides deportation relief for an estimated 5 million immigrants who fall under one of two categories: (1) undocumented immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, who have lived in the U.S. for five years or longer, and are not criminals; and (2) “DREAMERs,” or those children who entered the U.S. illegally with their parents before Jan. 1, 2010, regardless of their current age.
  • Priority Enforcement: The executive order will (1) have the DHS issue a department-wide memorandum that prioritizes the deportation of those who constitute national security threats and (2) have the DHS replace the Secure Communities program with a new Priority Enforcement program that prioritizes the removal of criminal offenders.
  • Immigration Process: The executive order aims to streamline the legal immigration process by (1) making the DHS create regulatory changes that allow foreign entrepreneurs who meet a certain income threshold to more easily enter the U.S. legally, (2) issues a presidential memorandum directing an interagency group to reduce government costs, eliminate fraud, and eliminate redundancy in the legal immigration system, and (3) create a White House Task Force on New Americans to develop a unified federal strategy on immigration.

It is unclear when the provision in the executive order will be implemented, but many expect the deportation relief provisions could go into effect as early as next spring. President Obama has stated that immigration legislation passed by Congress would immediately supersede his executive order.

State Impact

The executive order will affect states differently depending on state demographics. States with large illegal immigrant populations (i.e. California) will have more significant effects compared to states with low illegal immigrant populations (i.e. South Dakota). For more on state impacts, please visit the Migration Policy Institute