President Barack Obama announced in an controversial address Thursday evening that his executive order on immigration will focus on deporting illegal immigrants with a criminal background, but said it is unrealistic to deport all illegal immigrants in the U.S.
He also added that he will offer temporary legal status to parents of American children and to "DREAMers," or children who entered the country illegally with their parents but have been raised in the U.S, shielding up to 5 million immigrants from being deported.
"Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger -- we were strangers once, too," Obama said, alluded to the Old Testament law that required Israelites to look after foreigners among them.
"My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship."
The executive order has received mixed responses from Conservative and faith-based groups: some have praised the President for advancing objectives on immigration reform that have stalled in Congress while others feel he has stepped his constitutional authority by bypassing Congress and enacting laws which are morally unacceptable.
"With only continued delay and obstruction from the Congress and no promises for change, finally a political leader decided to act for the sake of immigrant families," writes Sojourners President Jim Wallis.
"[He has made a] morally responsible choice -- using his discretionary legal authority to focus enforcement resources and prioritize deportations in ways that keep families together and our nation safe."
"Immigration reform has become a matter of faith for many of us in churches around the country. In Matthew 25, Jesus clearly instructs his followers to 'welcome the stranger.' He goes further to say, 'as you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.' We have seen how that biblical text and clear gospel instruction has literally converted millions of Christians, including we evangelicals, to support immigration reform."
However, legal organization American Center for Law & Justice warns that President Obama's announcement is an "unconstitutional power grab of historic proportions."
"The President is changing the law by executive fiat - something that he does not have the power to do. By granting substantive rights such as work permits the President is exceeding his authority - a move that is unconstitutional and violates the rule of law," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ.
"While we support comprehensive immigration reform - which must begin with border security - such immigration reform must be done lawfully and with the participation of Congress. We're now discussing options with members of Congress - including the possibility of litigation - to challenge the President's unconstitutional action."
Meanwhile, Stacy Swimp, founder of Revive Alive Missional Ministries and nationally recognized political commentator, says any kind of amnesty for illegal aliens violates Biblical commands.
"Illegal aliens are fugitives...They are criminals, that crossed our borders illegally and avoided being processed by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)," he said.
"This is not a matter of being hateful or mean-spirited, but a matter of law. We are a nation of laws and for good reason. We have laws because God Himself gave man laws to provide a mirror to Himself so that man would know we must have boundaries and standards.
"Illegal aliens are no different than any other criminal in the United States who sought to take a shortcut in order to achieve their given set of goals. They have no boundaries that they honor and shall not submit to standards that require honoring our nation's rule of law. They have violated both man's and God's laws."