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Things to know about debate in Missouri over policies toward immigrants in the US illegally

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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — President Barack Obama's sweeping changes to U.S. immigration policies got a swift reaction from lawmakers and activists in Missouri, where the changes could apply to roughly 20,000 immigrants who are currently living illegally in the state.

Here are things to know about the debate in Missouri:


OBAMA'S ACTION

The president's executive order, decried by Republicans as a presidential overstep, protects as many as 5 million people from deportation. About 11 million immigrants are illegally living in the U.S.

Those who stand to benefit the most are immigrants who've been living in the U.S. illegally for more than five years but whose children are citizens or permanent residents. After background checks and fees, those individuals will be able to obtain work permits. Obama is also expanding a 2012 directive that deferred deportation for some young immigrants.


IMMIGRATION IN MISSOURI

About 65,000 immigrants were living in Missouri illegally as of 2012, based on the most current data available, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

The group reports that Obama's executive order extends to about 20,000 of those immigrants to stay and work in Missouri. Noncitizens must have documentation of their immigration status to apply, such as a passport or work permit, according to Missouri Department of Revenue spokeswoman Michelle Gleba.

A federal work permit also makes immigrants eligible for unemployment insurance benefits and workers' compensation if they meet certain requirements, Department of Labor spokesman Tom Bastian said.


LAWMAKERS REACT

Missouri Republicans chastised Obama's actions as an unconstitutional overreach of his presidential powers, though many were mum on whether they supported the changes.

U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer said Obama should instead focus on existing laws approved by Congress, including completing a border fence and enforcing tax and welfare fraud laws against immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. "Immigration reform is much too complex and too important to not properly go through the legislative process," he said.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt cautioned that an executive order wasn't a lasting solution, noting that another executive order could override Obama's decision.

Democrats were more divided in their response. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill bucked her party and joined Republicans in criticizing Obama for sidestepping Congress, saying the immigration system was broken, "but executive orders aren't the way to do it."

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay supported the executive order, calling it "the single smartest thing that we could do to spur economic growth." He also said the changes would help millions of people "who till our fields, cook our meals, clean our offices and care for our loved ones," and give them an opportunity to "finally live free from fear."


A TEMPERED VICTORY

Some immigrant advocacy organizations said the new policies don't go far enough. The orders only temporarily help less than half of the roughly 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally, and can be undone by the next president, said Vanessa Crawford Aragon, executive director of the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Association.

She said Congress needs to address the issue, adding: "They're the ones who can solve this problem once and for all."

But the orders could have a positive economic impact on the state economy, said Carlos Gomez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Kansas City.

"Our economy needs them and industries need these folks," Gomez said. "Let's find a way that people can come out from the shadows."


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