Washington: US President Barack Obama today bypassed Congress to announce the most sweeping immigration reform in a generation that will protect 5 million illegal workers from deportation and may benefit hundreds and thousands of Indian techies seeking legal permanent status.
Obama rejected accusations by conservatives that he is offering a free pass to undocumented immigrants and warned in a prime-time address that he would bolster border security and make it harder for unauthorised outsiders to get into the country.
The executive action, said to be one of the largest measure by a US President on immigration, is expected to help a significant number of Indian techies who currently have to undergo a painful and agonising process of H-1B visas to get legal permanent status (LPR), popularly known as Green Card.
Obama described his unilateral action as a "common-sense, middle-ground approach" that will allow otherwise law-abiding immigrants to "come out of the shadows and get right with the law". He said a mass deportation of the nation's more than 11 million undocumented immigrants "would be both impossible and contrary to our character".
According to some estimates, there are 4.5 illegal Indian immigrants in the US. Obama's plan would let parents of US citizens and legal
permanent residents remain in the country temporarily, without the threat of deportation. The measure would apply to those who have been in the US for last five years.
The move provides portable work authorisation for high-skilled workers awaiting LPR status and their spouses. Under the current system, employees with approved LPR applications often wait many years for their visa to become available, a White House fact sheet said.
"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. "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.
"We'll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country," he said. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will make regulatory changes to allow these workers to move or change jobs more easily.
DHS is finalising new rules to give certain H-1B spouses employment authorisation as long as the H-1B spouse has an approved LPR application. Obama said even as the US is a nation of immigrants, it is also a nation of laws and undocumented workers broke the
country's immigration laws and must be held accountable, especially those who may be dangerous.
"That's why, over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 per cent. And that's why we're going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who's working hard to provide for her kids. We'll prioritise, just like law enforcement does every day," he said.
Obama the measures he is enacting would refocus federal border control agents on the highest-priority cases such as felons, gang members and recent border-crossers that he called, collectively, "actual threats to our security". Obama said immigrants work hard, often in tough, low- paying jobs to support their families.
"They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here and their hopes, dreams and patriotism are just like ours. As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it, 'They are a part of American life,' he said.
Obama said the deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. "It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or theright to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens only Congress can do that. All we're saying is we're not going to deport you," he said.