Key Republicans in the House and Senate charged that President Barack Obama's immigration plan ignores the plight of millions of out-of-work or underemployed Americans, and vowed to fight the White House by protecting the rights of the U.S. citizens who voted them into office.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said Obama's plan would create a workforce of 5 million illegal immigrants that would compete with Americans for jobs and lower wages across the country. Sessions cast Obama's plan as one that goes against the direct interest of U.S. citizens.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and other GOP lawmakers warned Thursday that President Obama's immigration plan poses a major threat to U.S. workers, and vowed to fight it. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
"The President is providing an estimated 5 million illegal immigrants with social security numbers, photo IDs and work permits — allowing them to now take jobs directly from struggling Americans during a time of record immigration, low wages, and high joblessness," he said.
"It is time to stand strong for the American people," he said. "It is time to champion the interests of those constantly neglected on the question of immigration: the men and women and children we represent — the citizens of this country to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance."
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reiterated that Obama's plan to go around Congress has "cemented his legacy of lawlessness," and said he too would take up the fight for Americans who would be hurt by Obama's plan.
"Republicans are left with the serious responsibility of upholding our oath of office," he said. "We will not shrink from this duty, because our allegiance lies with the American people."
"We will listen to them, work with our members, and protect the Constitution," Boehner added.
The threat that Obama's plan poses to employment for Americans has been a central theme of GOP criticism of Obama's plan. At 8 p.m., Obama finally laid out the details of his action, which involves giving 5 million illegal immigrants relief from possible deportation, and letting them apply for work permits.
The plan also calls for more border enforcement and faster deportations, but the creation of a new workforce in America was still seen as a nonstarter for Republicans.
Sessions' office noted that 92 million people in the U.S. aren't working. It said Obama's plan would make it even harder for those people who continue to look for work, by creating new competition from a force of people who would suddenly be legal workers.
"The president apparently thinks it would help to offer work permits to more than 4 million illegal immigrants — further depressing wages and putting them in direct competition with Americans for scarce jobs," his office said.
"The president's decision to nullify the immigration laws of this country through executive action will hurt our economy, lead to more unemployed American citizens, and make us less secure," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). "It signals that America is an 'open borders' society with no rules governing entrance except those announced through royal decree."
While Democrats have said GOP presidents have also acted on immigration, Republicans have argued that they did so at a time when immigration was less of a crisis, when the parties were much more in agreement on immigration policy, and when those presidents had much more solid working relationships with Congress.
Several other Republicans said Obama's action showed a disregard not just for Congress, but for the will of the American people, who voted in Republicans in protest of Obama's immigration agenda. House GOP leaders vowed to fight Obama's move, although the party is still debating exactly how to defund or nullify Obama's new program.
Boehner's promise of some kind of congressional response was echoed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). "While House Republicans will still work to do everything we can to move the country forward, it is our obligation and responsibility to fight this brazen power grab that doesn’t solve the real problems," he said.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) also promised steps to reverse Obama's decision. "Since the president has acted outside the confines of his authority, I will work with my colleagues in both the House and the Senate to stop the president's unconstitutional actions from being implemented," he said.
Republicans have said Obama has pushed the concept of prosecutorial discretion to an extreme. Obama himself acknowledged during his speech that illegal immigrants have broken the law, but said his plan would bring "accountability" to those people by making them pay taxes, not by deporting them.
Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) said he's not sure it's legal to exempt such a large group of people from a tougher punishment.
"I question the authority to make a blanket decision regarding the prosecution of criminal laws, as opposed to making decisions in a specific individual's case," he said. "Further, prosecutorial discretion does not give authority to grant unprosecuted violators with privileges or benefits such as work permits. Such benefits granted to unprosecuted violators may be in violation of the law."