Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images

President Obama made an impassioned case for his sweeping executive action on immigration, which could spare almost 5 million people from deportation, and dared Republicans to stop him.

Focusing on the moral argument for welcoming immigrants, the president said on Thursday that deporting millions of people "is not who we are as Americans."

"As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it: 'They are a part of American life,'" he said during a primetime address in the East Room of the White House.

Obama challenged Republicans to approve legislation to replace his actions, instead of blocking it or shutting down the government in protest.

"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," he said.

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Republicans in Congress seem unlikely to pass the sort of legislation the president would sign into law. Following the speech, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement that Obama had "squandered what little credibility he had left" by taking immigration policy into his own hands.

Although the president's plan will still leave millions of undocumented immigrants subject to removal, Latino advocacy groups that once criticized Obama for deporting 2 million people applauded his move.

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"This action is a victory for the president, a victory for millions of American families and workers, a victory for our country, and a victory for common sense," said National Council of La Raza President Janet Murguia, who earlier this year decried Obama as the "deporter-in-chief."

Obama's case for immigration reform centered around a young heroine from Las Vegas: Astrid Silva. She came to the U.S. at a young age, the president said, and learned how to speak English by watching public television. Her father worked in landscaping; her mother, cleaning houses. Now, she's in college pursuing her third degree.

"Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid – or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?" the president asked. A video documenting Silva's reaction surfaced online shortly after:

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Republicans have repeatedly dismissed Obama's plan as "amnesty." But the president said that's not true.

"Amnesty is the immigration system we have today – millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time," he said.

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Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.

Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.