PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Pres. Obama’s speaking tonight as he announced long-anticipated executive action on immigration. He gave temporary relief from deportation to millions of undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
OBAMA: Let me tell you why I have come to feel so strongly about it. Over the past years, I’ve seen the determination of immigrant fathers who worked two or three jobs, without taking a dime from the government and at risk any moment of losing it all, just to build a better life for their kids. I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers. I’ve seen the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha – students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in the country they love.
BLOCK: And NPR’s Scott Horsley joins us now with more details on what the president has done. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Melissa.
BLOCK: And first of all, why don’t we talk about who would be protected and who would not.
HORSLEY: Well, potentially, this executive action could cover some 4 million immigrants who’ve been living in this country illegally. About 300,000 of those are people who would covered under sort of an expansion of the Dream executive order that the president took…
BLOCK: The DREAMer class, yeah…
HORSLEY: …In 2012. He’s going to expand that to a larger group of people - some who are older now, some who got here a little bit later. But then the larger group who’d be covered by this are illegal immigrants who have children who are either U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents and who have been here in this country for at least five years. Now, there was another group that some immigrant activists hope would be covered, which is the parents of the original DREAMers. But the White House decided that that was a bridge too far, and they’re not covered under this executive action.
BLOCK: And again, the notion would be this does not apply to folks who just came here within the last five years or folks who come here from here on out.
HORSLEY: That’s right. This is not intended for new crossers. It’s folks who have put down roots, who have woven themselves into the fabric of the community.
BLOCK: We – as we just heard in the tape that we heard from Pres. Obama, he referred to his own daughters. He did spend part of the time in this 15-or-so-minute address trying to humanize the immigrants at the heart of his executive action.
HORSLEY: That’s right. He’s really trying to bring the immigrants out of the shadows, not only legally, but also rhetorically because, you know, often times, in the raised voices over this issue, this is the group that’s overlooked – the people who would be directed affected. And Obama acknowledged tonight these are people who broke the law in coming to the country, but in many cases, he said, they have put down roots here. They haven’t committed crimes since then. You know, this speech wasn’t carried live on network television tonight. It was carried on Spanish language television. But Obama’s intended audience is not just the immediate beneficiaries of this relief. It really is the broader American electorate. He talked in this speech about how he understands the concern some people might have that granting relief to illegal immigrants would change the fabric of the country or take jobs or stick it to the middle class. He said, look, I hear those concerns, and that’s not what these steps are designed to do.
BLOCK: Well, what about the response so far from Republicans?
HORSLEY: Republicans have been angry about this action. They, of course – they had warned the president. They dared him not to take this action. But they’re also being careful because they know that if they over-react, this could backfire on them. So, you know, you’re not hearing about impeachment. You’re not hearing loud threats of a government shut-down. You are hearing about using the powers - the purse to try to counteract this – what they consider executive over-reach. But the Republicans are trying to be careful here. And, you know, the president sort of tried to turn this on its head and say, hey, look, I’m not the problem here. Remember, we had a bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate in the summer of 2013, but it’s been bottled up in the GOP-controlled House.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
OBAMA: Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of bill – a simple yes or no – it would have passed with support from both parties. And today, it would be the law. But for a year-and-a-half now, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote.
HORSLEY: And the president says, he still thinks that Congressional action, which would be more sweeping and more permanent than these actions that he’s taken tonight, are the real way to go. And he’s really trying to put the onus back on the House Republicans.
BLOCK: OK, NPR’s Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks so much.
HORSLEY: My pleasure, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.