WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is traveling to Las Vegas on Friday to sign an executive order that would offer temporary legal status to millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally and set off a new fight with Republicans in Congress.
Obama plans to speak at Del Sol High School, which he first visited as a presidential candidate in 2008 and where he first laid out a broad immigration plan in January 2013.
This time he will be arriving in Las Vegas to deliver at least part of his promise for reform, and will renew a challenge to the new GOP majorities in Congress to pass an immigration bill if they don’t like it, White House officials said.
Obama, in a video released on Facebook, said he would make a nationally televised announcement on immigration from the White House at 8 p.m. EST today, then would go to Las Vegas to promote the plan Friday. Del Sol High is in a largely Hispanic neighborhood east of McCarran International Airport.
Obama said that while everyone agrees the immigration system is broken, Washington has allowed the problem “to fester for too long.”
“What I’m going to be laying out is the things that I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system better, even as I continue to work with Congress and encourage them to get a bipartisan, comprehensive bill that can solve the entire problem,” Obama said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama in Las Vegas will sign the paperwork necessary to carry out his order that effectively will shield millions of immigrants from deportation.
That the president will be in Las Vegas taking a major step on immigration is no accident. The city has one of the fastest growing Hispanic and Asian immigrant populations that Democrats want to continue courting. Nevada has the largest share of immigrants in the country illegally of any state, according to a Pew Research Center study released this week.
And Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, who has adopted immigration reform as a signature issue, is up for re-election in 2016 and might need strong support from Latino constituents to win.
SLIM DETAILS SO FAR
Details of Obama’s executive order have not been announced. But reports are that the order would effectively protect up to 5 million immigrants in the country illegally from deportation, and make them eligible for work permits.
Many of them would be parents of so-called DREAMers — young people already allowed to remain in the United States and obtain work permits through an executive order Obama issued in 2012.
The eligible immigrants would not be entitled to federal benefits — including health care tax credits — under the Obama plan, officials said Wednesday.
The so-called DREAMers can obtain work permits but are not eligible for food stamps, federal welfare benefits or disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income program. They also are ineligible for tax credits under Obama’s health care law, though they can buy health coverage at full price on the exchanges created by the law. They might be eligible for public benefits provided by some states, however.
Pro-immigration activists in Southern Nevada said they have been contacted by the White House and were preparing for the Friday rally. They said they are demanding Obama to take bold action, as he promised he would almost two years ago.
“What will President Obama do to end senseless deportations and keep families together,” said Astrid Silva, an organizer for PLAN, a leading progressive group in Nevada.
“Our immigration system is broken, and tearing families apart. President Obama has a duty to keep his promise and use his full legal authority to take action where Congress has failed,” Silva said.
Reid said he planned to be with Obama in Las Vegas. He and 17 other Democrats also were invited to have dinner at the White House on Wednesday night to get an advance briefing from Obama.
“This is personal to me,” Reid said in a statement. “There is no issue I have worked on more in my time as Democratic leader than immigration reform.”
Nevada Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford, D-Nev., who was defeated for re-election this month in part because of lagging turnout among Hispanic voters in the 4th Congressional District, also will be at the rally, their offices said. Horsford has said he is considering running again in 2016.
The U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 that offered a path to citizenship for as many as 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, along with stepped-up spending to increase security at the U.S. Southern border.
But the Republican-led House has not acted, and Obama has said he did not want to wait any longer.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats supportive of comprehensive immigration reform have sent letters to the White House and held rallies urging the president to take aggressive action to at least shield from deportation the parents of DREAM Act-eligible young people.
“I say to President Obama: Be brave, go big, go bold and go now!” Titus said at an event on Tuesday.
Titus on Wednesday said executive action by the president is not a permanent fix to the immigration system, but it is “necessary” in the absence of Congress enacting broader reforms.
In an interview with Univision on Monday, Reid said expanding the DREAM Act eligibility to cover parents “would be, as far as I’m concerned, within the definition of big.”
Nevada Republicans were mum. Sens. Dean Heller and Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei have supported immigration reform but Obama choosing to take action unilaterally is a twist that most Republicans say they find unacceptable.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who will serve as majority leader in the new Congress, said Obama taking executive action on immigration was akin to “waving a red flag in front of a bull.” Republican leaders have vowed to fight it tooth and nail, saying it amounts to Obama granting “executive amnesty” to people in the country illegally.
GOP lawmakers are considering stripping funding from federal agencies that would carry out the executive order, while some conservative members are threatening to pursue a government shutdown.
House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman criticized Obama’s plans, noting that the president himself has said in the past that he is not “emperor” and is limited in his ability to act on his own.
“If ‘Emperor Obama’ ignores the American people and announces an amnesty plan that he himself has said over and over again exceeds his constitutional authority, he will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for congressional action on this issue — and many others,” said the spokesman, Michael Steel.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday that Obama’s executive actions will be comprehensive and include border security measures. He said he believes immigration changes that Obama will announce are not only legal but needed in light of inaction by Congress on immigration.
Johnson spoke briefly about the president’s plan during an event at the National Press Club on Wednesday, but he didn’t provide any details.
Stephens Washington Bureau writer Peter Urban and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.