President Obama Announces Sweeping Immigration Reform

U.S. president delivers impassioned remarks and challenges Congress to pass its own law.
23:39 | 11/21/14

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Transcript for President Obama Announces Sweeping Immigration Reform
This is in the BC news special. A presidential address to the nation. Now reporting deep his New York. Good evening great feedback we do you and we're waiting for the president about to deliver his highly charged announcement. Of a new immigration policy to policy is putting in place after being unable to get the congress to pass a comprehensive bill to overhaul the nation's immigration system. There are many Republicans in congress and even some Democrats who think he should of waited until the new congress begins next year. And work with that you get something passed some believe he's overstepping his power. A lot of -- ABC's chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl and John the president moving ahead tonight. David this is the most far reaching change the immigration system that we have seen for almost thirty years and the president is moving former tonight doing it entirely on his own in defiance of congress. As you can imagine congressional leaders Republicans are vowing to challenge the so even as the president prepares to speak tonight. His legal team is preparing to goad of court to defend his authority to do this as one of his top advisors told me tonight. This is absolutely supported. By the law you can expect Republicans will challenge that the president will defend his action tonight Republicans in congress and as we pointed out a moment ago some Democrats believing he should've waited until. The new congress is in place to work would them. But President Obama addressing the nation on his new immigration policy moving forward. Taking his own action and believing that he has the right to do this. Tweeting a moment ago about what he's about to address the nation on immigration. Policy. My fellow Americans. Tonight I'd like to talk would 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. Let's get this 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 broke. And everybody knows it. Families who Wear 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. An 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 and 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. There wasn't perfect. It was a compromise. But reflected common cents. You would have doubled the number 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 line. An independent experts said that it would help grow our economy. And shrink our deficits. Through the House of Representatives allowed that kind of built a simple yes or no vote they would have passed with support from both parties. And today it would be the wall. 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. 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 the will help make our immigration system more fair and more just. Tonight amount announcing those actions. First and build on our progress at the border would additional resources for our law enforcement personnel. Truth bacon stemmed the flow of illegal crossings and speed the return of those who do crossover. Second. I'll make it easier and faster. For high skilled immigrants graduates are not open doors to stay and contribute to war conflict the so many business leaders have proposed. Tour. Will 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 most passion and controversy. Even as we are a nation of members were 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 or deportations of criminals are up 80%. And that's why we're gonna keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons not families. Criminals. Not children. Gang members. Not a mom who's working hard to provide for kids. We'll prioritize dislike law enforcement does every day. But even as we focus on deporting criminals. The fact is millions of immigrants in every state. Have every race and nationality. Still live here illegally. I must be opts. Tracking down rounding up and deporting millions of people isn't realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise is and being straight with the 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 tough low paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American born we're spend most their lives here and their hopes dreams and patriotism. Or just like ours. 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 expected those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. Sort and 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 registered. 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 it's. Always been clear what about what is is and 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 common sense middle ground approach. If you meet the criteria you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If your criminal you'll be deported. If you plan to enter the US 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 or congress has failed I have one answer. Pass a bill. I want to work when both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I signed that bill into law the actions I take it will no longer be necessary. Meanwhile. Don't let a disagreement over a single issue via deal breaker on every issue. It's not our democracy works. And congress certainly shouldn't shut down our government again just because we disagree on that's. Americans are tired of gridlock. We're 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 talk. Millions of us myself included go back generations in this country. What 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 some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are. Or take our jobs. We're stick it to middle class families at a time when Merrick feel like they've gotten a raw deal. For over a decade. I sure those 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. 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 from 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 the system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds. Never have a chance to get right with the long. 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 together to keep them together. Are we a nation that educates the world's best and brightest and our universities. Only to send them home to create businesses in countries are compete against us. Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs here. Pre businesses here create 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've come to feel so strongly about it. For the past years I've seen the determination of immigrant father's 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 Lyndon have to write 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. These people. Our neighbors. Our classmates. Are friends. They did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life. He came to work. And study and serving our military. And above all contribute to America's success. So tomorrow all travel to Las Vegas and meet with some of these students. Including a young woman named Astrid so. Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old. For only possessions were cross. Heard all. In the frilly dress she had on. When she started school she didn't speak any English she caught up to other kids by reading newspapers. And watching PBS. And she became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mom clean other people's homes. They wouldn't let pestered applied weather technology magnet school. Time because. They're in water but because there were afraid the paperwork poured out her as an undocumented immigrant. Two she applied behind their back and got him. Still she mostly live 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 deport. Those around that time she decide to begin advocating for herself and others like her. And today Astrid soul 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 the stranger. For we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers wants to. My fellow Americans we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers wants to. And whether our fore bearers were strangers who crossed the Atlantic for the Pacific. We're 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. What are last names are. For how we worship. What makes us Americans. Is our shared commitment to an ID. That all of us are created. And all of us had the chance to make of our lives what we will. That's the country are 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 war yet to come. Thank you god bless you. And god bless this country we look. President Obama speaking their from the east true what the white house on his immigration policy and I wanna bring back and Jon Karl our chief White House correspondent John. He said essentially what we've been reporting here that if you've been in America more than five years if you have children were American citizens here you can register pass a criminal background check. Pay your taxes and you can stay in the country not get deported he made it clear it does not grant citizenship. But that's likely not to make his opponent sets up and a make them happy happier about us. Not for the bottom line you up five million people who are here illegally right now who now will be eligible. For legal status that's what the critics will focus but I've got to tell you David. That is as impassioned a statement that I have heard this president to give on immigration this is an issue has been debated for many years as you well know. And that is about as forceful statement as I heard of said include a dare to congress if you don't like what I just did it pass your own bill to do something about our broken immigration. He also talked about the bipartisan legislation that was passed by the senate never got to the house and so. Thank you John I want to bring in the new chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi and senator thanks for being with us tonight. Thank you your new leader Mitch McConnell said the congress will after President Obama issues this executive order what he expected to do. Well I expect to think that's what I expect we will challenge the president court he doesn't have the authority to do this. And the president himself has said as much some twenty or more times he said he's not a king. He's not an emperor and he can't act as it is in an imperial way. So somewhere along the line recently. Suppose he's changed his mind on that so will challenge him in the court is as we've done. And then know once we get the gavel in the appropriations process. I expect this application process and he talks about. Will be defund it. With appropriation riders. In the meantime senator wicker one of the reasons he says he's changed his mind is because this executive orders the result of the house's inaction on comprehensive immigration reform the question dealers should the house have approved immigration bill that the senate passed last year to prevent this from happening and he voted against it. But should the house of at least take in this debate up. I don't think that this particular proposal was actually in that. In the senate bill but let me let me talk about the president's great desire for legislation as of the united states of Illinois. Barack Obama did everything in his power to defeat. George Bush's effort for a bipartisan. Immigration reform. That the new 2009 and 2010 would be at super majorities in both houses. And could have passed anything you wanted to did pass. The health care bill did pass over. The sweeping banking bill he didn't even offer immigration bill so. It's hard to figure this president whose new found. Desire for the legislative process to work when he could have had a bill on his desk. In 2000 none but chose not to do it actually oppose George Bush. When he tried to get immigration reform passed. And senator wicker you signaled hear what Republicans will likely do. You and some of your colleagues have said there will be no government shut down to stand by that. Note if there will be no shut down they'll be no talk of a shut down I don't really. I expect. And we're and I think that this was confirmed in the president's speech then I think he's really trying to goad the congress I hate to say this about the chief executive of the land but I. It would seem to be that. He's at least entertain the possibility of picking a fight with congress hoping that folks like. Roger Wicker will stand opponent of a camera and phone with a mouth we're not gonna do that there are ways we have challenged this president and one. On the hobby lobby case. On the I do well when the congressional recess isn't when recess appointments or. We've won almost every case will challenge the president on this and and I do hope. And and believe that this new congress that has just been elected. By the American people will deal with border security will deal with the issue. What to do with people who who are here. Illegally but to say because we haven't done so and are unlikely to do so in a lame duck congress the president can act alone. I think is wrong and I think the president said as much. Over a dozen times. It's all right senator wicker we thank you for joining us planning action. Take action after the president tonight and immigration policy but you heard him their safe no government shutdown because of this site. Want to turn out of Miami Florida news remove our sister network fusion ABC's senior national correspondent Ramallah. Who's been on this immigration story for years and Jim some pretty strong reaction expected really on both sides here who's happy tonight who's not. Well let David I wanna kinda get out of the politics and talk about main street America and main street now goes to the Barrios of America. And across the country tonight. There are Hispanics who are feeling. That they have finally gotten something. Out of this debate if they have finally may not be enough and may not be everything they were looking for but they have finally gotten something as have been surprisingly David there's a bit. The suspicion among Hispanics as well they're worried because this is an executive order and they're gonna sign up for a program. That could be overturned within a couple years in that leaves their names are now in the shadows but that leaves their names and their records with the government in could've Republican president or the next president. And only overturn this but then go after them and find where there live now so there is some suspicion. Some skepticism about this movement in general. They're quite happy as far as the losers in this the losers in this in this manic community in the Latino community in the and immigrant community. Remain to be that of the family the families of dreamers. These are the people of course who were granted legal status by the president in 2012. Their families. Are no are not eligible for this new legal status their parents. Because they are not citizens at this point. So there was a disappointment that in that that was something that the president had kind of hinted he might do with it not. Wow all right Jim model witness from fusion tonight in Miami as he mentioned some suspicion and questions over lasting power. I want to quickly check in would ABC's Geoff Celanese covers congress for us. He's on Capitol Hill tonight Jeff the relationship between the president and this new congress is it already do before even starts. It seems like it is David I mean this is the most contentious of debates were opening up here if we thought Obama care as contentious and controversial. This is so much more so because it has to do with the heart of what the president can and cannot do. So congress is going to go hard up for the white house on this file suit on this but. Republicans still say they want to work with the president next here on other things. Because they have to show that they can government will see if that happens this is going to be very sour atmosphere apparent Capitol Hill David. You're there witnessing at all course just selling or things to UD GM and to John tonight that's all for right now you can get the latest updates. On this story anytime right here on abcnews.com. Or by storing it. On the ABC news mobile out and we'll have a full report tomorrow morning on Good Morning America and for those of you watching this in the west. I'll see you shortly on world news tonight until that. Have a good evening.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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