SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Immigrant-rights groups in San Diego applauded President Barack Obama's plans to take executive action on immigration, which is aimed at protecting millions of people living in the country illegally from deportation.
Obama delivered a nationwide address on the topic Thursday and plans to rally support for his order at a Friday morning event in Las Vegas.
Immigration advocacy group Alliance San Diego held a watch party for the president's address at ASD's North Park office.
Rob Luton, of the San Diego Secure Border Coalition, said Obama is sending the wrong message to lawbreakers, who can look forward to being absolved at some point.
"On the merits of his decision, I think it's terribly flawed," Luton said. He said he thinks the president overstepped his executive authority.
According to the White House, Obama's order will shield an estimated 5 million immigrants from deportation, while ordering border authorities to target "felons, not families."
The order will allow immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents to request relief from deportation and authorization to work for three years. To qualify, they must have been in the country for more than five years, pass a criminal background check, pay fees and show that their child was born prior to the issuance of the executive order.
Once qualified, they will also have to pay taxes.
The executive order will also expand on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children, by removing the upper age limit of 30. The DACA program, which applies to Guillen, will also be amended to offer three years of protection from deportation, up from the previous two years.
Obama's order also shifts additional resources to the border and establishes enforcement priorities designed to "increase the chances that anyone attempting to cross the border illegally will be caught and sent back." It also calls for changes to address the backlog of pending immigration court cases.
The order also stresses that deportation actions will focus on people "suspected of terrorism, violent criminals, gang members and recent border crossers," according to the White House.
"Today brings big news to millions of hardworking -- and otherwise law-abiding -- immigrants in our communities who will be more easily come out of the shadows to work, pay taxes and raise families without fear of deportation," said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. "I am proud our president is taking this very crucial first step, but this doesn't relieve the Republicans in Congress from their responsibility to act in the long term."
Gonzalez, who represents the border area in the lower chamber of the Legislature, also pushed for enactment of comprehensive reform of the immigration system.
On Twitter, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said, "This is a major step forward. I applaud President (Obama) for recognizing how vital immigrants are to (California's) economy, culture, society."
In a video posted on the White House Facebook page Wednesday, Obama says he is taking action because Congress "has allowed the problem to fester for far too long."
"And so 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 work better, even as I continue to work with Congress to encourage them to get a bipartisan, comprehensive bill that can solve the entire problem," he said.
Republican leaders in Washington, including Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, have said congressional progress on immigration has stalled due to the GOP belief that Obama will fail to enforce whatever laws are enacted.
"It is sad and disappointing that -- faced with this challenge -- President Obama won't work with us, but is instead intent on going it alone with executive orders that can't and won't fix these problems," Boehner said.
Boehner and other Republicans have vowed to attempt to overturn whatever action the president takes.
"If 'Emperor Obama' ignores the American people and announce 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," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, said, "The president's unilateral actions on immigration are a violation of his responsibilities and the trust the American people have placed in him."
"President Obama is playing a dangerous political game with lives and deepening the mistrust that the American people and Congress have in his ability to faithfully execute the law," Issa said. "The president is not respecting our system of checks and balances -- we cannot let this stand."
Sen Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., countered that Republicans in Congress never expressed such outrage when President Ronald Reagan legalized 3 million immigrants in 1986 or when President George H.W. Bush halted deportations of more than 1.5 million people.
"I'll tell you, President Bush's Family Fairness policy, the executive action he took, was sweeping," Boxer said. "It affected more than 40 percent of the undocumented population in the United States at the time. He thought big, George Bush Sr., he thought big. And this president should think big."