TIME Immigration

Obama Will Pressure GOP to ‘Finish the Job’ on Immigration

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama announces executive actions on immigration during a nationally televised address from the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. Jim Bourg—AP

President feels 'liberated' now that midterms are over

President Barack Obama will use his executive action on immigration to pressure Republicans to “finish the job” by passing a reform bill, White House Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer said Friday.

At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, Pfeiffer was asked if Obama would tout his action in swing states to put pressure on Republicans.

Pfeiffer didn’t answer directly, but he did say the administration “will be making the case about what we did and the need for Congress to finish the job.”

He added that this would be an “incredibly important priority” in 2015.

The remarks came two weeks after Democrats were routed in the midterms, losing control of the Senate. But Pfeiffer said that in contrast to an election season where Obama needed to protect Democratic candidates and “wasn’t able to be out there and make an argument,” he will now be freer to flaunt his plan, which grants temporary legal status and work permits to almost five million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Though advisers have suggested that Obama feels “liberated” now that midterms are over, Pfeiffer says he’s already looking ahead and planning for to 2016. “A very important thing for him will be to be succeeded by a Democrat,” Pfeiffer said.

TIME

House GOP Sues Administration Over Health Care Law

(WASHINGTON) — House Republicans have sued the Obama administration over steps President Barack Obama took to put his health law into place.

The lawmakers say the president overstepped his legal authority.

The lawsuit was filed Friday against the departments of Health and Human Services and the Treasury.

Republicans voted earlier this year to sue Obama over his actions to unilaterally waive provisions of the law.

Democrats have said any suit would be a political sideshow and waste of money.

The suit comes hours after Obama said he was acting on his own on immigration — further infuriating Republicans.

TIME Immigration

Boehner: Immigration Action Damages The Presidency

Speaker promised the House will respond

House Speaker John Boehner said President Obama is “damaging the presidency itself” by unilaterally providing temporary legal status and work permits to millions of immigrants who are living in the country illegally.

“With this action he has refused to listen to the American people,” said Boehner in a press conference Friday. “The President has taken actions that he himself has said are those of a king or an emperor, not an American president.”

Boehner did not lay out a specific response to counter the President’s executive action, the largest American immigration move in decades, but promised that “the House will in fact act.”

Republicans are considering everything from using the power of the purse to a lawsuit in response. The latter move may prove unsuccessful, as some of the most high-profile American legal scholars, including Harvard’s Laurence Tribe, have said that the action was within the President’s lawful authority.

TIME Bill Cosby

Morning Must Reads: November 21

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Obama Unveils Immigration Plan

President Barack Obama announced on Thursday night he is granting temporary legal status and work permits to almost 5 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, the largest single immigration action in modern American history

Behind Bill Cosby’s Silence

The comedian and his wife Camille have largely been reticent about sexual-allegations directed at him. History tells us why this silence is oppressive

Forecasters Warn of Rain in N.Y.

After relentless snowfall blanketed much of western New York this week, officials warned on Thursday that a new danger is now threatening the area — rain

NSA Warns Cyber Attacks Could Cripple U.S. Infrastructure

NSA director Mike Rogers said U.S. adversaries are performing electronic “reconnaissance” on a regular basis so that they can be in a position to disrupt the industrial control systems that run everything from chemical facilities to water treatment plants

World Heads Toward Warmest Year Ever

October marked the fifth month to break worldwide heat records. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced on Thursday that the average global temperature for October was 58.43ºF (14.74ºC)

U.S. to Up Nonlethal Aid to Ukraine, Says Report

Washington is ready to increase its delivery of nonlethal aid to the Ukrainian government, but will refrain from furnishing Kiev with weapons to use in its fight against pro-Russian forces in the country’s southeast, according to a Reuters report citing unnamed U.S. officials

University of California Approves Steep Tuition Hike

Tuition at University of California schools could rise by as much as 28% by 2019 under a plan approved on Thursday. The vote by the system’s board pitted top state officials, including Governor Jerry Brown, against those who run the UC’s 10 campuses

Michael Brown Sr. Urges Calm Ahead of Grand Jury

The father of Michael Brown, the black teenager shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., this summer, has asked people not to “hurt others” or “destroy property” ahead of a grand jury decision into whether the officer will be indicted in the killing

Suicide Helpline Aims to Help Transgender People

On 2014′s annual day of remembrance for transgender victims of violence, Trans Lifeline, a crisis hotline staffed entirely by transgender people, aims to help transgender people struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts

How TIME Reviewed the Work of Mike Nichols

The Oscar-winning director, who died on Wednesday aged 83, first appeared in TIME in 1958 as he was becoming famous as a comedian. But after Hollywood came calling, his movies got rave reviews from our critics — with one or two notable exceptions

Zoolander Will Return, With Penelope Cruz Attached

The Spanish actress will bring her finest Blue Steel to Ben Stiller’s long anticipated sequel to his 2001 supermodel comedy. No word yet on whether Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson will return for the follow-up, which is reportedly set in Europe

Oakland Raiders Win First Game Since 2013

The Raiders used a 17-play touchdown drive and a late defensive stop to pull off the shocking upset, 24-20. It was their first victory since a 28-23 triumph at Houston on Nov. 17 of last season

We will hold an #AskTIME subscriber Q&A today, Friday, November 21, at 1 p.m., with TIME Washington bureau chief, Michael Scherer, who wrote this week’s story on America’s New Anchor, Jorge Ramos of Noticiero Univision. His other stories can be found here.

You can submit your questions beforehand on Twitter using the #AskTIME hashtag or in the comments of this post. We depend on smart, interesting questions from readers.

You will need to be a TIME subscriber to read the Q & A. ($30 a year or 8 cents a day for the magazine and all digital content.) Once you’re signed up, you can log in to the site with a username and password.

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TIME politics

Biden Will Push Turkey to Step Up Role in Fight Against ISIS

Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following airstrikes by the US led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, Nov. 17, 2014.
Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following airstrikes by the US led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, Nov. 17, 2014. Vadim Ghirda—AP

Biden is the latest U.S. official to meet with Erdogan as divide between the coalition and Turkey grows

ISTANBUL — Vice President Joe Biden on Friday will become the latest in a parade of U.S. officials trying to push Turkey to step up its role in the international coalition’s fight against Islamic State extremists.

His visit comes after weeks of public bickering between the two NATO allies. The Turkish president insists that if the U.S. wants his help, it must focus less on fighting IS and more on toppling Syrian President Bashar Assad. Erdogan wants the U.S.-led coalition to set up a security zone in northern Syria to give moderate fighters a place to recoup and launch attacks.

The U.S. has no appetite to go to war against Assad and has said a no-fly zone against Syria’s air force is a no-go.

Turkey has pledged to train and equip moderate Syrian forces on its soil, but no details have been announced by either side. U.S. and Turkish officials have discussed the coalition’s desire to use Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base for U.S.-led operations against IS militants, but Turkey has made no public decision about Incirlik.

“From the no-fly zone to the safety zone and training and equipping — all these steps have to be taken now,” Erdogan said on Wednesday. Then he echoed the same line he’s been saying all along: “The coalition forces have not taken those steps we asked them for. … Turkey’s position will be the same as it is now.”

That’s after a U.S. military delegation spent two days in Ankara last week trying to hammer out details to implement Turkey’s pledge to train and equip moderate fighters. That’s after top U.S. military officials visited Incirlik in the past few weeks. And it follows two visits in two months by retired Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy for the international coalition.

Allen told the Turkish daily Milliyet on Wednesday in Ankara that fighting extremists in Iraq was the “main effort” right now, but that’s not the only effort and “we’ll be doing that in Syria as well.”

“Eventually, of course, our policy intent for the U.S. is that there be a political outcome in Syria that does not include Bashar Assad,” said Allen, who left Turkey for NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Now it’s Biden’s turn.

He plans a dinner meeting Friday with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. On Saturday, Biden is to have an extended meeting with Erdogan, and plans to fly back to Washington on Sunday.

The obvious compromise would be if Washington shifted its policy on Syria to do more to force out Assad, and Turkey agreed to do more against IS, said James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Iraq who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Jeffrey is not holding his breath.

“Erdogan is a tough customer to reason with, but Turkey is already a major source of stability and support in region and could be better if we play cards right,” Jeffrey said. “But Erdogan is, at this point, troublingly unpredictable.”

Turkish officials say Turkey is an active partner in the coalition.

Besides pledging to train moderate Syrian forces, Turkey gave Kurdish fighters from Iraq permission to traverse its soil on their way to help Kurdish fighters in the besieged Syrian town of Kobani near Turkey’s border. That was an unprecedented step for Erdogan, but Turkey’s military has been inactive regarding the IS advance on the town.

Turkey has good relations with the Kurds in Iraq, but it views the Kurds in Syria as an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party. The party has waged a 30-year insurgency against the Turkish government and is designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. and NATO. Asked if more Kurdish fighters from Iraq would be moving through Turkey, a Turkish official said: “Yes, we might see them again.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about Turkey’s policy on Syria.

Turkey also is hosting 1.6 million Syrian refugees. Washington acknowledges that Ankara has worked to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Syria, although it’s still easy in some places to move across for a price. U.S. officials also say Turkey has cracked down on oil smugglers. Analysts estimate that IS earns up to $3 million a day in revenue from oil fields captured in Iraq and Syria.

Still, the U.S. and Turkey are not in sync about Syria, and Biden’s visit follows weeks of misunderstandings and harsh rhetoric emanating from both capitals.

Locals in Istanbul have dubbed one flap the “apology-no apology,” which began over something Biden said in a speech at Harvard University.

Biden said that early in the Syrian conflict, Turkey assisted extremists because they were seeking to depose Assad. Erdogan demanded an apology; the White House said Biden called Erdogan to apologize, but Biden said he didn’t.

There was more disagreement over whether Turkey had decided to let the U.S. use Incirlik base for operations against extremists in Syria and Iraq.

Aggravating the tension was an incident last week in Istanbul where three American sailors from the USS Ross were roughed up by anti-American demonstrators.

TIME technology

How US Companies Help Central Asian Autocrats Eavesdrop

A Long Island firm is helping Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan clamp down on dissent

American companies are supplying technology that the governments of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are using to spy on their citizens’ communications and clamp down on dissent, according to a new report from the UK-based advocacy group Privacy International.

Verint Systems, a manufacturer of surveillance systems headquartered in Melville, N.Y., has sold software and hardware to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan that is capable of mass interception of telephone, mobile, and Internet networks, the group alleged in its Nov. 20 report. It also provided the training and technical support needed to run them, the report said.

Verint, which claims customers in 180 nations, in turn sought decryption technology made by a firm in California, Netronome, as it helped the Uzbek government attempt to crack the encryption used by Gmail, Facebook, and other popular sites, according to the report.

The report’s overall message is that countries in Central Asia – including also Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan – regarded as among the world’s most autocratic are getting Western help to install, on a much smaller scale, some of the same advanced mass interception techniques that Edward Snowden revealed are used by the National Security Agency.

Those acquisitions have been facilitated in part by loose export controls over surveillance technology. To be subject to U.S. export restrictions, products must appear on a Commerce Department control list — and the key components of the surveillance products described in the Privacy International report do not appear to be on those lists, according to report co-author Edin Omanovic.

Products that can lay the foundation for mass surveillance are not restricted by special export controls if they are sold in an off-the-shelf, unaltered state, according to Eva Galperin, a global policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit digital rights foundation.

While many of the group’s sources are not listed in the report, and its claims therefore cannot all be confirmed, the report says that staff members interviewed activists in the region who recounted that transcripts of their private communications were used to convict and imprison them on charges of conspiracy.

Recent U.S. State Department reports for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan describe a pattern of state-sponsored torture, inhumane treatment of prisoners, arbitrary arrest, and limited civil liberties in both countries. The State Department’s report on Uzbekistan specifically accused authorities there of detaining and prosecuting activists and journalists for politically motivated reasons. In the Kazakhstan report, “severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their government” was listed as a significant human rights problem.

Kathleen Sowers, an assistant to the general manager of Verint Systems, said in a telephone conversation on Nov. 20 that all of the company’s senior personnel were traveling and could not be reached for comment. Netronome spokeswoman Jennifer Mendola said in an email that the company had “no information on the matter” described in the Privacy International report. The company complies with all applicable laws of the United States and every other jurisdiction in which it operates, and “does not condone any violation of human rights or personal privacy,” she added.

Privacy International, a 24-year-old registered charity in the United Kingdom, publishes investigations and studies about digital privacy. It has challenged the legality of Britain’s spy agency using information obtained from the U.S. National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance program to conduct mass surveillance of British citizens.

Several of the firms alleged to have exported snooping gear to the region have Israeli connections. Verint’s exports, for example, were dispatched by its Israeli subsidiary, according to the report. According to Omanovic, multiple sources had told his group that the transfers had been approved by the Israeli government. Israel and Kazakhstan signed an agreement for defense trade and cooperation at the beginning of 2014. A spokesman at the Israeli embassy in Washington did not have any immediate comment.

The report also said the Israeli firm NICE Systems has supplied monitoring systems with mass surveillance capabilities to the Kazakh and Uzbek regimes. Erik Snyder, NICE’s director of Corporate Communications, told the group in response that NICE provides law enforcement agencies and intelligence organizations with solutions for lawful communication interception, collection, processing, and analysis, but that it “does not operate these systems, and has no access to the information gathered.”

Some of the U.S. companies named in the report allegedly provided the Central Asian governments with technology that has less controversial purposes. Sunnyvale, CA-based Juniper Networks manufactured broadband equipment that Kazakhstan has been using to transmit data, according to the report, and a surveillance system that actively monitors internet users is now operating from that equipment. But the report makes no claim about Juniper’s complicity in surveillance. Juniper spokeswoman Danielle Hamel said she would look into the claim but then did not respond further.

The sole international agreement that includes regulations for the export of mass surveillance technologies – known as the Wassenaar arrangement — is non-binding on its 41 signatories. Israel is not a signatory, but says it uses Wassenaar’s control list as a guide, according to Privacy International’s Omanovic.

In October 2014, the European Commission amended its export controls to impose extra licensing requirements on monitoring and interception technologies. But the U.S. has not enacted its own controls on such exports.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) has introduced several versions of a bill entitled “The Global Online Freedom Act,” meant to “prevent United States businesses from cooperating with repressive governments in transforming the Internet into a tool of censorship and surveillance.” But he has not been able to get the bill approved even by the subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations that he chairs.

TIME Immigration

The Latin Grammy Awards Celebrates Obama’s Immigration Plan

A political moment turns into a cultural celebration on Spanish-language television

The 2014 Latin Grammy Awards were delayed by 17 minutes Thursday night so President Obama’s announcement on immigration could be carried live with Spanish translation on Univision.

But that wasn’t the only impact President Obama had on one of the most-watched Spanish-language broadcasts of the year. From the first minutes of the show, his decision to give legal status to nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants was celebrated as an affirmation of Latino power. Host Eugenio Derbez, a Mexican actor and comedian, started off the theme in his opening remarks. Here is a translation:

Good evening. Welcome to the Latin Grammys, an award that today celebrates 15 years of excellence in Latin music at an international level. What a way to start the night. On Univision we are celebrating that, little by little, millions of Latinos in this country are beginning to benefit. It was about time that the rights of Latinos were recognized, because it was long ago that we stopped being a minority. Latinos are an important part of what moves this country. What is more, Latinos are already part of this country, gentlemen. And what a better stage to celebrate this great news than this one of the Latin Grammys, because if you notice, Latinos have always used music to cross borders. What’s more, I have an uncle who crossed the border inside a piano.

That joke was segue to a bunch of more traditional award show one-liners.

Later in the night, the theme continued when Spanish crooner Enrique Iglesias accepted the award for Song of the Year. He gave a shout out to the President’s actions in his acceptance speech.

Good evening. We’re here in France, in Paris, and we want to send you a very big hug. We wish we could be there with all of you celebrating. This night is not only historic for all the Latino artists, but for all the Latino people who live in the U.S. A big hug. Thank you.

Then Carlos Vives, a Colombian singer, accepted an award further into the show. “I want to dedicate this especially to President Obama,” he said at the end of his speech, holding up his golden gramophone trophy.

The White House, which had scheduled the remarks to coincide with the Grammys, seemed pleased by the result. Shortly after Iglesias made his comments, the official White House Twitter account retweeted the news of his shout out.

In 2013, 9.8 million people watched the Latin Grammy Awards on Univision, making the channel a top-three network for the night in the U.S.

TIME

Legal Scholars: Obama’s Immigration Actions Lawful

Backing the President's Move

President Barack Obama’s announced immigration executive actions are lawful, a group of ten prominent legal scholars wrote in a joint letter shared by the White House with TIME.

Pushing back on Republicans who have blasted Obama’s action as unconstitutional and unlawful, the signatories include Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe, conservative legal scholar Eric Posner, and former Yale Law School Dean and former State Department Legal Advisor Harold Hongju Koh.

“While we differ among ourselves on many issues relating to Presidential power and immigration policy, we are all of the view that these actions are lawful,” the professors wrote. “They are exercises of prosecutorial discretion that are consistent with governing law and with the policies that Congress has expressed in the statutes that it has enacted.”

The letter reinforces a Justice Department opinion that the president’s actions were lawful. The same memorandum noted that the Office of Legal Counsel believed that extending prosecutorial discretion to prevent deportations of the parents of those granted deferred action in 2012 would not be lawful, providing Obama cover from criticism from advocates who wanted the president to do more.

The full letter is below:

TIME Immigration

Here’s Obama’s Immigration Speech In Full

President Barack Obama announced new executive actions on immigration Thursday evening in a primetime address to the nation. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

My fellow Americans, tonight, I’d like to talk with you about immigration.

For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities – people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.

But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.

Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America. And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.

It’s been this way for decades. And for decades, we haven’t done much about it.

When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Although this summer, there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our border, the number of such children is now actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years. Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts.

Meanwhile, I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn’t perfect. It was a compromise, but it reflected common sense. It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line. And independent experts said that it would help grow our economy and shrink our deficits.

Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of a bill a simple yes-or-no vote, 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.

Now, I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President – the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me – that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.

Tonight, I am announcing those actions.

First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.

Second, I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.

Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.

I want to say more about this third issue, because it generates the most passion and controversy. Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable – especially those who may be dangerous. That’s why, over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 percent. And that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.

But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is, millions of immigrants – in every state, of every race and nationality – will still live here illegally. And let’s be honest – tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans. After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours.

As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it: “They are a part of American life.”

Now here’s the thing: we expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.

That’s what this deal is. Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive – only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.

I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today – millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time.

That’s the real amnesty – leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability – a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.

The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every single Democratic President for the past half century. And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary. Meanwhile, don’t let a disagreement over a single issue be a dealbreaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works, and Congress certainly shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this. Americans are tired of gridlock. What our country needs from us right now is a common purpose – a higher purpose.

Most Americans support the types of reforms I’ve talked about tonight. But I understand the disagreements held by many of you at home. Millions of us, myself included, go back generations in this country, with ancestors who put in the painstaking work to become citizens. So we don’t like the notion that anyone might get a free pass to American citizenship. I know that some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class families at a time when they already feel like they’ve gotten the raw end of the deal for over a decade. I hear these concerns. But that’s not what these steps would do. Our history and the facts show that immigrants are a net plus for our economy and our society. And I believe it’s important that all of us have this debate without impugning each other’s character.

Because for all the back-and-forth of Washington, we have to remember that this debate is about something bigger. It’s about who we are as a country, and who we want to be for future generations.

Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?

Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?

Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs, businesses, and industries right here in America?

That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration; we need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.

I know the politics of this issue are tough. But let me tell you why I have come to feel so strongly about it. Over the past few years, I have seen the determination of immigrant fathers who worked two or three jobs, without taking a dime from the government, and at risk at 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 a country they love. These people – our neighbors, our classmates, our friends – they did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life. They came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America’s success.

Tomorrow, I’ll travel to Las Vegas and meet with some of these students, including a young woman named Astrid Silva. Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old. Her only possessions were a cross, her doll, and the frilly dress she had on. When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to the other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS, and became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mother cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school for fear the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant – so she applied behind their back and got in. Still, she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her, and today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree.

Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid – or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?

Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.

My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.

That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this country we love.

TIME Immigration

Obama to Give Legal Status to Almost 5 Million Undocumented Immigrants

Official calls executive actions "temporary and reversible"

President Barack Obama announced Thursday he is granting temporary legal status and work permits to almost five million undocumented immigrants living in the country illegally, the largest single immigration action in modern American history.

More than four million undocumented immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident children will receive new legal status under Obama’s executive action, if they have been living in the country for at least five years, pay back taxes, and pass a criminal background check.

Obama, who will formally take the action on Friday at an event in Las Vegas, will also offer temporary status to several hundred thousand immigrants who came to the country as children, but did not qualify for his action on deferred deportations in 2012. This group includes those who were born before 1981 and those who arrived in the U.S. between June 15, 2007 and Jan. 1, 2010.

MORE: Republican governors blast Obama’s immigration plan

“Mass amnesty would be unfair,” Obama said in an impassioned address to the nation from the East Room of the White House. “Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability—a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.”

A senior Obama Administration official described the action as a “pretty routine application of enforcement priorities” in a briefing for reporters Thursday afternoon. “It is not a pathway to citizenship. It is temporary and it is reversible.”

The last time such a large number of undocumented immigrants got legal status was through legislation President Ronald Reagan signed in 1986, which gave a path to citizenship for about three million people. There are currently about 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

The plan, which will be put into place by memoranda and the actions of cabinet officials, will also include new priorities and procedures for detaining and deporting those undocumented immigrants not granted special status. The new deportation priorities will focus on removing criminals, gang members, and those who have arrived in the U.S. since Jan. 1, 2014.

“Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids,” Obama said. “We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.”

“Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger—we were strangers once, too,” Obama added, quoting Exodus. “My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants We were strangers once, too.”

The President and his team decided not to extend the special legal status to the parents of undocumented children, a group that could have covered several hundred thousand additional immigrants. “We made a determination that the law essentially did not support that,” the official said. In a publicly-released memo, the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel wrote that in its opinion Obama could not justify granting deferred action to the parents of those covered by the 2012 “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program.

MORE: Republicans brace for an immigration fight with Obama

That temporary legal status, which was granted to hundreds of thousands of child arrivals in 2012, will now have to be reviewed every three years. Obama compared his action to those taken by every Republican and Democrat for the past 50 years, telling lawmakers on Capitol Hill that if they question his authority to act, “I have one answer: Pass a bill.”

In a video statement released before Obama’s speech, Speaker of the House John Boehner criticized Obama for acting unilaterally. “The President has said before that he’s not king and he’s not an emperor, but he’s sure acting like one,” he said. “And he’s doing it at a time when the American people want nothing more than for us to work together.”

Some Republican governors have threatened to sue to undermine Obama’s action, while on Capitol Hill, GOP lawmakers have threatened to use legislation to try to block or defund the plan. Senior Administration officials said the expansion of temporary legal status would be funded through fees, and therefore could not be defunded by Congress. But Obama aides have not ruled out other legal routes to try to block the measure.

A third Administration official said the President would not sign any such effort into law. “That in and of itself would be something the President would veto,” the official said.

Read next: Hillary Clinton Backs President Obama’s Immigration Announcement

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