Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) charged Thursday that President Obama's executive action on immigration would make it easier for illegal immigrants to get on a path to U.S. citizenship, even though Obama has said he is not going that far.
"He and his administration have cleared the pathway to citizenship for millions of people who have crossed into our borders illegally," Lee said on the Senate floor. "They know that that's what they have done, and it is illegal."
According to Lee, people illegally in the United States are not allowed to become citizens unless they first leave and then re-enter the country legally. Under current law, those people have to wait either three or 10 years to return, depending on how long they were in the country.
Lee said Obama's immigration action would radically alter that system. "The president claims that he's not touching this rule, but that's exactly what he's doing," Lee said.
Specifically, Lee said Obama has proposed to give illegal immigrants what is called "advance parole," which would let them leave and return without having to wait the three or 10 years. He said these immigrants would be given documentation allowing them to re-enter the country.
He also said once they return, those illegal immigrants would be considered as eligible to apply for citizenship, since they technically have left and returned.
Lee said normally, that permission to leave and return quickly is difficult to get — for example, it might be given out to let a person attend a family funeral. But under Obama's plan, he said, illegal immigrants would have an expanded list of reasons they could use to leave and return.
But Lee said Obama would let them leave for educational, employment or humanitarian reasons.
"For the new deferred action recipients, under the president's executive action plan, so long as you have a business meeting in Toronto or an overseas assignment in Buenos Aires, you can get permission to leave and be paroled back into the country immediately upon your return," he said.
He said Obama seems to be planning this shift because it has been known to support using parole as a way to speed up the process of giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.