November 21, 2014 - 08:34 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Nearly five million people living illegally in the U.S. can escape deportation under sweeping changes to the immigration system.
"Come out of the shadows and get right with the law," urged President Barack Obama in a televised address, according to BBC News.
Republicans say the action, without Congress, is beyond his authority and relations will now be poisoned.
There are about 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. and this year children coming across the border prompted a crisis.
Under the plan, undocumented parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents will be able to apply for work permits lasting three years. Only parents who have lived in the U.S. for five years will qualify - about 3.7m people are estimated to fit this criteria.
The president told the nation that what he is proposing is not amnesty.
"What I'm describing is accountability - a commonsense, middle ground approach," he said.
Although the plan will allow millions to work, it won't offer a path to citizenship or entitle them to the same benefits as Americans, he said. "If you're a criminal, you'll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up."
The plan will also expand a 2012 program that defers deportation for young people brought to the country illegally as children.
Republicans reacted with fury and said such a move "poison the well" on a number of other issues. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain called it an "illegal power-grab" that "fails to address the root causes of the dysfunction in our immigration system".
And Texas Governor Rick Perry, who leads a border state, argued the move would "lead to more illegal immigration, not less".
Some Hispanic campaigners called on the president to do more.
"President Obama's important move forward on immigration reform is legally and morally right but deficient in its scope," said Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Voto Latino.
Obama's plan does not go as far as a Senate bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants but it was never passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The U.S. president has said he would sign a compromise bill on immigration from Congress if it passed.
Obama said those who questioned his authority "to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer - Pass a bill".