WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) – President Obama has announced far-reaching orders on immigration that will allow millions of  people now in the U.S. illegally to “come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

Saying “our immigration system is broken and everyone knows it,” the president said he is taking executive action because Congress has failed to pass comprehensive reform.

“We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration,” he declared. “We need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.”

The president’s unilateral actions will spare 5 million people, mostly parents and the young, from deportations. The administration is also setting new enforcement priorities that could make it easier for many more people in the U.S. illegally to stay in the country.

The president issued a challenge to Republican leaders who have threatened to sue or impeach him.

“To those members of Congress who question my 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,” Obama said.

Advocates held rallies in support of the plan, including one outside a federal building in Seattle that featured a series of speeches from politicians, activists, and immigrants.

The president will travel to Las Vegas on Friday for the first in a series of rallies he will hold around the country. Obama will be fighting against his own diminished standing with the public as he appeals for support on actions that test the limit of his presidential powers.

Despite the sweeping scope of the president’s actions, more than half of the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally will be granted no specific protections. However, Obama’s orders aim to decrease the likelihood that many of them will be deported by ordering the Department of Homeland Security to focus its enforcement on those who have criminal histories or who recently crossed the border.

Obama’s action marks the most sweeping change to the nation’s immigration policy in three decades and comes after years of stalled efforts toward broader federal legislation. Republicans vowed a fierce fight to stop the measures, weighing options that included lawsuits, a government shutdown and even impeachment.

“The president will come to regret the chapter history writes if he does move forward,” declared Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who is soon to become the Senate majority leader.

While many Democrat have backed Obama’s decision to circumvent Congress, some in the party have expressed reservations. Among them is West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who said the newly elected Congress should first be given an opportunity.

“To put it through now is the wrong thing to do,” Manchin said. “We ought to try in January to see if we can find a pathway to get something accomplished.”

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

 

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