As many as 5 million people in the country illegally would be spared from deportation and made eligible for work permits but not entitled to federal benefits — including health care tax credits — under President Barack Obama's immigration plan, officials said Wednesday. Obama will travel to Las Vegas on Friday to discuss the executive actions.
The White House would not confirm Obama's travel plans or the purpose for the visit. But Obama was to speak at Las Vegas' Del Sol High School, a school with a large population of non-English speaking students where Obama unveiled his blueprint for comprehensive immigration legislation in 2013.
Republicans are vehemently opposed to the president's likely actions, with some conservative members threatening to pursue a government shutdown if Obama follows through on his promises to act on immigration before the end of the year.
A wide-ranging immigration bill passed the Senate last year, but stalled in the Republican-led House. Obama vowed this summer to instead pursue changes to the immigration system using his presidential administrative authority, but delayed the measures until after the midterm elections, in part because of concerns from some Democrats facing tough races.
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Democrats still lost control of the Senate in the midterm balloting.
One official familiar with the administration's planning said the beneficiaries of Obama's new executive action would not be able to receive federal government benefits, including health care tax credits, and would be treated in the same manner as those immigrants who were shielded from deportation and who became eligible for work permits under an Obama directive in 2012. The 2012 executive action deferred deportations for immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children. The official discussed the limits of Obama's action on the condition of anonymity, lacking authority to speak on the record at this point.
Those immigrants covered by the 2012 action, called Dreamers by their advocates, can obtain work permits but are not eligible for food stamps, federal welfare benefits or disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income program. They also are ineligible for tax credits under Obama's health care law, though they can buy health coverage at full price on the exchanges created by the law. They may be eligible for public benefits provided by some states, however.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday that Obama's executive actions will be comprehensive and include border security measures. He said he believes that immigration changes that Obama will announce are not only legal but needed in light of inaction by Congress on immigration.
Johnson spoke briefly about the president's plan during an event at the National Press Club on Wednesday, but he didn't provide any details.
House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman criticized Obama's plans, noting that the president himself has said in the past that he is not "emperor" and is limited in his ability to act on his own.
"If 'Emperor Obama' ignores the American people and announces 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," the spokesman, Michael Steel, said.
Astrid Silva, an organizer for the group Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said the president "has a duty to keep his promise and use his full legal authority to take action where Congress has failed." The group said the White House has been in touch with Nevada activists about the trip.
The Democratic official insisted on anonymity because this person wasn't authorized to confirm the president's trip by name.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner, Alicia Caldwell and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington and Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas contributed to this report.