22 NOV 2014: Barack Obama defended his sweeping immigration reform on Friday, at a rally in Las Vegas designed to mobilise support for his decision to shield almost five million people from deportation.
The president told a rapturous, mostly latino crowd the executive orderhe announced on Thursday would protect hardworking parents who were living in the US illegally.
â€œWeâ€™re not a nation that kicks out strivers and dreamers. We welcome them as fellow children of god,â€ he told a cheering crowd of about 1,600 people at the Del Sol high school.
The executive action was a lawful and common sense response to congressional deadlock over immigration, Obama said. â€œThe bottom line is mass amnesty would be unfair, but mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our contraryâ€™s character. What we are offering is accountability.â€
The president chose the venue because it was where, in 2013 and after winning a second term, he promised bold action, only to see House Republicans kill an immigration bill which passed in the Senate. â€œTime has been wasted, families have been separated,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™ve come back to Del Sol to tell you Iâ€™m not giving up. I will never give up.â€
The speech did nothing to quell a firestorm in Washington, where Republicans geared up for a bruising fight. Earlier, House speaker John Boehner accused Obama of â€œundermining the rule of lawâ€ and â€œplacing lives at riskâ€.
About two dozen protestors greeted the presidentâ€™s cavalcade with posters and chants accusing him of being a dictator and giving amnesty to undocumented welfare seekers. â€œTurn your backs! Donâ€™t let him see your faces,â€ instructed one organiser. The New York Post, among other media critics, dubbed the executive action â€œBamnestyâ€.
Inside the school, however, the mood was giddy. Astrid Silva, 26, a Mexico-born activist whom Obama had singled out as a â€œstriving, hopefulâ€ poster child of reform, introduced him on stage amid chants of â€œsi, se puedeâ€ â€“ â€œyes we canâ€.
The president largely repeated his prime-time speech from Thursday, urging America to show compassion to newcomers who entered the country illegally, worked hard and put down roots yet still saw â€œlittle option but to remain in the shadows or risk their families being torn apartâ€.
When a heckler shouted that the executive action left millions in limbo, Obama replied: â€œI hear you. Thatâ€™s why we have to pass a bill.â€ He challenged Republicans to do so, and sad he had done everything possible in a vain effort to persuade their House leader:â€œI told John Boehner Iâ€™d wash his car, walk his dog.â€
It was a line unlikely to soothe the GOP leader. Immigration is a toxic issue for Republicans. They are united in opposition to Obamaâ€™s action but bitterly divided over how to deal with the countryâ€™s estimated 11 million undocumented migrants.
Boehner told a news conference Obama had undermined the rule of law. â€œThe president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek,â€ he said. â€œAnd as I told the president yesterday, heâ€™s damaging the presidency itself.â€
Mitch McConnell, the incoming Senate majority leader, said unilateral executive action would â€œpoison the wellâ€.
Obama, who was accompanied to Las Vegas by latino leaders, appealed for cool heads.
â€œWashington should not let disagreement on this one issue be a deal-breaker on every issue,â€ he said. â€œCongress should not shut down government again over this.â€
He said said there were undocumented people of all nationalities. â€œThis is not just a Latino issue. This is an American issue.â€
Unless major immigration legislation is passed before 2016, Obamaâ€™s decision almost certainly means immigration will be a central issue for candidates in the next presidential election. Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, released a statement endorsing the executive action and accusing Congress of an abdication of responsibility.