US & Canada

Republicans savage Obama immigration executive action

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Media captionJohn Boehner had harsh words for the president

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has condemned US President Barack Obama's use of executive powers to force through immigration reform.

The conservative leader said the action sabotages any chance of enacting cross-party reforms and damages the presidency itself.

Mr Obama's plan means more than 4m illegal immigrants in the US will be allowed to apply for work permits.

Speaking in Las Vegas on Friday, the president said he had no choice.

"We're not giving up," he said. "We're going to keep on working with members of Congress to make permanent reform a reality."

But until that day, he said, he will take actions within his powers to make the system "more fair and more just".

Earlier, Mr Boehner said the plan would encourage more people to arrive unlawfully.

"We have a broken immigration system and the American people expect us to work together to fix it," Mr Boehner told reporters on Friday, saying Mr Obama had acted unilaterally "like a king or emperor" and not through a democratic process.

Astrid's moment

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Media captionThe BBC captures the moment Astrid heard her name
  • the only undocumented immigrant mentioned in the speech was Astrid Silva
  • she was brought to the US aged four, with just her doll, a cross and the dress she wore
  • now she is working on her third college degree

"The action by the president yesterday will only encourage more people to come here illegally," Mr Boehner said. "[It] also punishes those who have obeyed the law and waited their turn."

The Republican leader said Mr Obama's actions fail to to take into account the wishes of the American people, adding it is not the first time the US leader has acted without the consent of Congress.

"All year long I have warned the president that by taking unilateral action on matters such as his healthcare law or by threatening action repeatedly on immigration, he was making it impossible to build the trust necessary to work together," Mr Boehner said.

The same day, House Republicans filed a federal suit over the legality of parts of Mr Obama's signature healthcare reform law, nicknamed Obamacare.

Analysis: Jon Sopel, BBC North America Editor

How has the immigration debate in the United States become so polarised, so toxic, so unpleasant?

That it has cannot be doubted. Barack Obama says he has grown so weary of trying to get Congress to engage seriously that he is going it alone.

He's bypassing the legislature and brandishing his big stick - the executive action. It is governance by diktat. And the reaction of his opponents suggests it will spark an atmosphere of retaliation and revenge.

How did immigration debate get so toxic?

Under Mr Obama's new immigration plan, undocumented parents of children who are US citizens or permanent legal residents will be able to apply for work permits lasting three years.

There are estimated to be 11 million illegal immigrants in the US.

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Media captionVisitors to a coffee shop in St Charles, Missouri give their views on the plan

More than 4m of them are expected to benefit from the reform package forced through using executive orders, which allow Mr Obama to bypass Congress.

Only parents who have lived in the US for five years will qualify.

Some 3.7 million people are thought to be eligible for this scheme, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Another part of the package will extend a programme that gives temporary legal status to people who arrived in the US as children.

Currently only those under the age of 30 who arrived before 2007 can apply for the programme, which was launched in 2012 and already covers roughly 1.2 million people.

Mr Obama has abolished the age limit and extended the cut-off point to 2010, potentially extending the programme to a further 300,000 people.

The US leader said in a televised address that his measures would allow illegal immigrants to "come out of the shadows and get right with the law".

He insisted that his proposals, which are the biggest immigration reforms since the mid-1980s, did not amount to an amnesty.

"What I'm describing is accountability - a common-sense, middle ground approach," he said.

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Image caption There were emotional scenes at viewing parties across the US

Mr Obama's plan does not go as far as an immigration bill that failed to pass Congress last year.

The bill was supported by the Democrat-led Senate, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refused to debate the proposal.

The vast majority of illegal immigrants in the US come from Mexico, according to figures supplied by Homeland Security.

They made up 59% of undocumented people in 2012, followed by El Salvador (6%), Guatemala (5%), then Honduras and Philippines (3%).