Politicians are gearing up to join a chorus of chatter that will take off as soon as President Obama announces executive orders on immigration Thursday evening. While GOP leaders are cautioning lawmakers to mute any potentially inflammatory remarks, Democrats in Washington are also being briefed on how to react to Obama’s announcement. The underlying message for them seems to be: Don’t call it deportation relief.
Even though the president’s most widely anticipated move involves shielding potentially millions of undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation, the measure barely registers in talking points sent to Democrats in Congress, according to a memo acquired by Buzzfeed News on Wednesday. Instead, the language focuses heavily on border security and requiring background checks for undocumented immigrants. It also reframes the idea of relief as reprioritizing deportation policy to target serious criminals.
“The executive actions crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay taxes,” the memo reads.
Regarding any potential accusations of “amnesty,” it adds, “Taxes and background checks aren’t amnesty. That’s accountability. Doing nothing -- that’s amnesty. We need to focus on deporting felons, not families; criminals, not children.”
The prospect of deportation relief is by far the most polarizing aspect of Obama’s expected executive orders. While Republican lawmakers decry it as an overreach of executive authority, immigration advocates say the current system separates families and causes undocumented immigrants to live in constant fear.
The memo makes no mention of Obama’s other expected announcement to expand the number of visas for high-skilled workers with science and engineering backgrounds. While it is not nearly as politically sensitive an issue as deportation relief, it does tie into a longstanding congressional debate about raising the cap of H1-B visas for skilled foreign workers.
At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reportedly said that Democratic lawmakers would support the president’s announcement. “We told the president, and we’re telling him in front of the TV cameras: We’ve got his back,” he said.