Obama: Executive Actions 'Not' Amnesty; 'Amnesty Is the Immigration System We Have Today'

WASHINGTON -- Republicans predictably came down hard on President Obama's address announcing his immigration executive order, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) vowing to "work with our members and protect the Constitution.”

How they were planning to funnel their outrage into legislative or judicial action was less clear.

"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," Obama said in the White House's Cross Hall during the primetime address.

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

According to the White House, the Department of Homeland Security will be establishing a new deferred action program for parents of U.S. Citizens or legal permanent residents "who are not enforcement priorities and have been in the country for more than 5 years." His previous Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order would be expanded to include all illegal immigrants brought to the country as children before Jan. 1, 2010, regardless of current age.

Obama elaborated on his third step "because it generates the most passion and controversy," adding that "we’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day."

"Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids," he said of deportation targets. "...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."

Obama acknowledged that "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," he said.

"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 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 president then stressed it's "important that all of us have this debate without impugning each other’s character."

"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?" he asked. "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?"

Republicans' general reaction to the speech was that Obama is favoring a nation of lawlessness.

"Not long ago, President Obama said the unilateral action he just announced was ‘not an option’ and claimed he’d already ‘done everything that I can on my own.’ He said it would lead to a ‘surge in more illegal immigration.’ He said he was ‘not a king’ and ‘not the emperor’ and that he was ‘bound by the Constitution.’  He said an action like this would exceed his authority and be ‘difficult to justify legally,'" Boehner said. "He may have changed his position, but that doesn’t change the Constitution."

The Speaker added that Obama "cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left."