Washington: Barack Obama`s Republican rivals on Friday heaped scorn on his plans to offer up to five million undocumented migrants protection from deportation, as the US president went on the road to defend the bold measures.
The controversial overhaul provides three-year relief for millions of undocumented people who have lived in the country for more than five years and have children that are US citizens or legal residents.
According to the president, it also channels more resources to the US border with Mexico and shifts deportation priorities toward expelling felons.
But critics blasted the action as "illegal" and "unconstitutional" as soon as Obama unveiled Thursday night, bringing tensions with Republicans to a boil.
Already emboldened by their sweeping midterm election victory, Republicans vowed to thwart Obama`s plans.
"With this action the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms he claims to seek," House Speaker John Boehner declared Friday.
"We are working with our members and looking at the options that are available to us," he told reporters. "But I will say to you: the House will in fact act."
In a prime-time address, Obama said nearly a dozen commanders-in-chief before him have acted unilaterally over the past half century on some facet of immigration reform.
"There are actions I have the legal authority to take as president -- the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me -- that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just," Obama said in his speech.
Republicans were not buying it.
"The constitution does not grant the president the power to act as a one-man legislature by appealing to `tradition,`" Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus fumed on Twitter. The RNC also urged opponents of the reform to contribute money to the party to help fight the order.
Obama was quick to stress that the sweeping order "does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive.
"Only Congress can do that," he added. "All we`re saying is we`re not going to deport you."
People living and working illegally in the country and who meet the criteria can apply for deferred deportation from next spring, the White House said.
Obama was travelling Friday to Las Vegas, Nevada to further explain his immigration orders. The state is home to many undocumented Latinos.
"The president is going to undertake a very aggressive sales job on the actions he announced last night," White House senior advisor Daniel Pfeiffer said at a reporters` breakfast, adding that Obama saw immigration as an "incredibly important" priority.
"We`ll travel all over the country to do this," he added. "We will be making the case about what we did and the need for Congress to finish the job."The political firestorm unleashed by Obama does not bode well for relations between Congress and the White House in the coming months.
Boehner provided no specifics about Republican counter-measures, but others have laid out options, including seeking to defund the offices responsible for carrying out Obama`s efforts.
Some want to insert language in must-pass spending legislation that would block the executive action, setting up a showdown that could lead to a government shutdown.
Lawmakers should push back against Obama`s "illegal power-grab," said Senator John McCain, a Republican who helped craft immigration legislation that passed the Senate but died in the Republican House. But he has warned against provoking another shutdown like one in 2013 that was blamed on Republicans.
"Congress must be creative in using all the tools in our toolbox -- including mounting a legal challenge -- to oppose the president`s action," he said.
Conservative Senator Ted Cruz urged fellow senators to block Obama`s choices for ambassadorial and administration posts, as well as judgeships.
Boehner himself sent a stern political message Friday about the president`s executive overreach, announcing that House Republicans have filed suit in federal court challenging changes the administration made to the Affordable Care Act.