The Center for Immigration Studies released a report Monday that said the Obama administration has operated a "shadow" immigration system for years, one that has handed out millions of work permits to illegal aliens and aliens with unknown legal status.
According to government data that CIS received in a Freedom of Information Request, the Obama administration used its discretion to give out nearly 5.5 million work permits to aliens with varying legal status since 2009.
A Republican aide said the report could be one of the biggest scandals of the Obama administration, since it shows the administration was giving work permits to illegal immigrants at a time of high unemployment among Americans.
The report was released just as the Obama administration is preparing to implement an immigration plan that could provide legal protection to up to 5 million illegal immigrants and give them work permits. Republicans have said this plan would only make it easier for non-legal residents to take jobs from Americans, although the CIS data shows this is already happening under Obama.
"I was astonished at the huge number of work permits that are being issued by the Obama administration outside the legal immigration system through executive discretion, especially at a time of high unemployment and stagnant wages," said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at CIS. "Besides the effect on the American worker, it encourages and rewards more illegal immigration."
According to CIS, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has issued 5,461,568 new work permits to aliens. That's in addition to the roughly 1.1 million legal immigrants and 700,000 guest workers that the U.S. admits legally each year.
Of that 5.5 million, 1.8 million were issued to aliens with temporary visas, but 1.2 million of that group had a visa status that does not authorize employment.
Another 982,000 work permits were given to illegal immigrants or immigrants who weren't qualified for admission. Almost all of this group were made up of aliens who crossed the border illegally, according to CIS.
Another group of 1.7 million is made up of aliens with unknown legal status.
The Senate this week will start to consider a House-passed spending bill that would defund Obama's new immigration plans, and the CIS report will likely give new voice to Republican calls to pass that bill. However, Democrats are known to oppose the Department of Homeland Security spending bill if it contains the defunding language, which will make it difficult to pass the Senate.
Still, CIS said Congress has a chance to put the brakes on another Democratic effort to expand work permits by blocking the law, and said it should do so to help protect American jobs.
"These statistics indicate that the executive branch is operating a huge parallel immigrant work authorization system outside the bounds of the laws and limits written by Congress," CIS said. "It inevitably reduces job opportunities for Americans."
Read the CIS report here: