It's expected the executive action announced last night will benefit as many as 5 million immigrants across the country. Despite intense GOP backlash, Obama says he doesn't need congressional action to expand work permits or stay the deportations of parents with kids who are U.S. citizens or have green cards.
It's the kind of unilateral, executive action so-called "Dreamers" like Olvera -- young, undocumented immigrants who would have benefited had the Dream Act passed -- have for years been clamoring for, as dog-whistle politics transformed comprehensive immigration reform, which had seemed completely possible years ago, into a pipe dream.
Carolina Ramirez, a 24-year-old organizer with United We Dream whose parents brought her here from Mexico two decades ago, recalled how undocumented students across the country have organized, protested, and even launched hunger strikes so they could go to college and find work without the daily threat of deportation. Once they got that, they wanted protection for their parents, too. "We're happy in one sense," Ramirez said, "but I think this is still hard to swallow for a lot of us."
Another young woman talked about her mother, who won't qualify for relief. "That she's going to be left out, that just breaks my heart," she said.
Despite the very-predictable cries of "amnesty" from the right, Obama's track record on immigration is a mixed bag no matter how you look at it, whether you're an immigrant-lover or a secure-the-border type. On one hand, Obama launched his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, stalling the deportations of young immigrants who had no control over their status because they were brought to the country as kids. On the other hand, Obama has deported a lot of people. Although deportations started rising under George W. Bush, they hit their high point in the Obama presidency; in 2012 the feds deported more than 400,000 people, the most ever in a single year.
Amid the collective freak-out by Senate and House Republicans, we heard gems like this from Ted Cruz in a Politico op-ed this week: "If he acts by executive diktat, President Obama will not be acting as a president, he will be acting as a monarch." The more-measured Sen. John Cornyn, while warning that Obama's action kills any spirit of bi-partisanship moving forward into the next congress, has already promised that this isn't worth another government shutdown. U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, meanwhile, says the GOP is looking for a way to de-fund the executive order when the House votes on a budget bill.
Since debate over this move will only intensify in the weeks and months to come, here are some of the basics you should know about Obama's executive action on immigration: