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Breaking Down the Debate Over Obama’s Immigration Plan

Image: Jeff Sessions, Saxby Chambliss

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., asks a question of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama's choice for defense secretary, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., sits at right. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh / AP

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, arguably one of the Senate’s staunchest opponents to immigration reform, laid out a multitude of reasons for opposing President Barack Obama’s immigration action in an opinion piece in USA Today.

Obama “declared that he will impose his rejected amnesty through brute force of executive order,” Sessions wrote.

In addition, he said the president’s action to defer deportations for several million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. will enable them to “obtain green cards and become permanent residents, allowing them access to almost all federal programs, to receive citizenship and sponsor foreign relatives to join them in the U.S.”

How accurate are those claims? Here’s a look at them with the help of Patrick Taurel, a legal fellow at the American Immigration Council.

“His order will grant them social security numbers, government-issued IS’s, legal status and work permits:”

The president’s executive action to provide the parents of legal residents reprieve from deportation will enable some recipients to get social security numbers and they can also receive a work authorization card, issued by the government, to enable them to seek legal employment. Those steps can only come after they have applied and been approved for the program.

As for “legal status,” that is more complicated. Recipients will be able to live in the U.S. lawfully but will not have legal status. A person with legal presence (not status) can live, work and attend school without the fear of being deported but won’t be able to enjoy many state and federal benefits.

In addition, someone with legal status, which includes those who hold a green card or visa, would receive a hearing if their legal status was in jeopardy. Someone with legal presence would not necessarily receive as much due process.

Recipients will not be able to apply for citizenship or legal status and will have to reapply every three years to protect them from deportation.

The next president, however, can reverse this executive action.

“Many illegal immigrants will also be able to obtain green cards and become permanent residents, allowing them access to almost all federal programs, to receive citizenship and sponsor foreign relatives to join them in the U.S.:”

It’s a complicated and risky process, Taurel says, but there is a section of immigration law already in place where a beneficiary of the president’s executive action could receive legal status. It’s through the “parole” process.

Since a person living in the country cannot apply for legal status while in the U.S., a person could attempt the process by traveling to his or her country of origin. The immigrant living in the U.S. can file an application, pay a fee and ask permission to leave the country for one of three reasons – humanitarian, employment or education. If leave is granted, a person must apply for “advance parole” to ask for admittance. Through that process, the traveler can ask for a green card or visa. It is meant to help a small number of people who have access to a visa through a family member or employment and is meant to expedite the process of staying in the country legally.

Taurel said Session's statement that immigrants under the deferred deportation program will be able to receive legal status, including a green card, is "misleading in the extreme."

"The only way for anyone impacted by the deportation reprieve program for moms and dads to acquire permanent legal status is through a convoluted process that will only really be available to a handful of immediate relatives of US citizens," Taurel added.

In his executive order, the president said he will make it easier for deferred deportation recipients to travel to and from the U.S., but the details are still unclear.

“Not only will millions of low-wage illegal immigrants rush into the labor market, but they will collect billions in taxpayer dollars as well. These costly government benefits range from child tax credits, to public housing to the likelihood that amnestied immigrants will rely on taxpayers for medical and retirement benefits.”

The beneficiaries from the executive action will not have access to federal health care and retirement programs. Even though as legal employees they will now be paying taxes, they will not have access to subsidies under the Affordable Care Act nor Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare benefits, Taurel said.

Read Sessions’ entire opinion piece