2 GOP presidents acted unilaterally on immigration

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Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush
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2 GOP presidents acted unilaterally on immigration
President George H. Bush point to a piece of the Berlin Wall while visiting former President Ronald Reagan in Reagan's Century City office on Thursday, March 1, 1990 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)
U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, center, is escorted by President Ronald Reagan, left, and Vice President George Bush to the White House in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Jan. 8, 1985, after his return from U.S.-Soviet arms talks in Geneva. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)
Former President Ronald Reagan, left, his wife Nancy Reagan, new first lady Barbara Bush and her husband President George Bush, right, walk down the Capitol steps after the inaugural ceremony in Washington, D.C., Friday, Jan. 20, 1989. President Bush was sworn in as the nation's 41st president. The Reagans are heading to an awaiting helicopter to take them to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and onto California. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Republican candidate for President Ronald Reagan, left, and his running mate George H.W. Bush answer questions during a press conference Friday, July 26, 1980. Reagan said the independent committees raising funds to help elect him president are "a hazard" that could cause a backlash against his candidacy. (AP Photo/Wally Fong)
Gov. Ronald Regan, the Republican Party's nominee for president and his vice-presidential nominee George H.W. Bush pause for photos as Reagan arrived Thursday,July 24, 1980 for meeting with Bush. The two will also hold joint meetings with members of both their political campaign staffs. (AP Photo/Wally Fong)
Republican presidential candidates Ronald Reagan, left, and George H.W. Bush, right, greet prior to their Thursday night debate February 28, 1980 on public television. Howard Baker and John Connally were also present at the debate at Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo)
President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush meet with members of the U.S. Committee on Pacific Economic Cooperation on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 1984 in the White House Rose Garden in Washington. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)
Pres. George H. W. Bush, right, presents former Pres. Ronald Reagan with the Medal of Freedom during a ceremony at the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 1993, Washington, D.C. Reagan became the 302nd recipient of the nations highest civilian honor, the 38th such award of Bushs tenure in the White House. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
Pres. Ronald Reagan, front right, and President-elect George H. W. Bush, walk toward the Oval Office at the White House, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 1988, Washington, D.C. Bush and Vice President-elect Dan Quayle, back right, met briefly with the President. Barbara Bush, center right, Nancy Reagan, center left, and Marilyn Quayle are also shown. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty)
Pres. Ronald Reagan, center, grins toward President-elect George H. W. Bush, right, as Vice President-elect Dan Quayle looks on, Nov. 9, 1988, Washington, D.C. Also standing are Mrs. Nancy Reagan, left, Mrs. Barbara Bush and Mrs. Marilyn Quayle. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty)
Pres. Ronald Reagan greets President-elect George H. W. Bush, left, upon his arrival to the White House, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 1988, Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)
Pres. Ronald Reagan, right, with Vice Pres. George H. W. Bush at back, talks to reporters at the White House as he and Mrs. Reagan prepare to leave for their trip to Europe, Friday, June 1, 1984, Washington, D.C. They will visit Ireland and London with a stop in Normandy. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)
President Ronald Reagan, left, shakes hands with President-elect George H. W. Bush as First Lady Nancy Reagan looks at the White House prior to leaving for the Capitol for the inauguration of Bush as the 41st President, Friday, Jan. 20, 1989, Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
President Ronald Reagan with Vice President George Bush and wives Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush attend the National Prayer Service in Washington on Sunday, Jan. 20, 1985 at the National Cathedral. At noon today President Reagan will be sworn to his second term as President at a private White House ceremony. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
President-elect George Bush gives President Ronald Reagan a thumbs up as Reagan reacts prior to Bush being sworn in as the 41st president of the United States outside the Capitol, Jan. 20, 1989, in Washington. Behind Reagan is Bush's son George W. Bush. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two presidents have acted unilaterally on immigration - and both were Republican. Ronald Reagan and his successor George H.W. Bush extended amnesty to family members who were not covered by the last major overhaul of immigration law in 1986.

Neither faced the political uproar widely anticipated if and when President Barack Obama uses his executive authority to protect millions of immigrants from deportation.

Reagan's and Bush's actions were conducted in the wake of a sweeping, bipartisan immigration overhaul and at a time when "amnesty" was not a dirty word. Reagan and Bush's actions were less controversial because there was a consensus in Washington that the 1986 law needed a few fixes and Congress was poised to act on them. Obama is acting as the country - and Washington - are bitterly divided over a broken immigration system and what to do about 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally.

Obama wants to extend protection from deportation to millions of immigrant parents and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and expand his 2-year-old program that shields immigrants brought illegally to this country as children.

A tea party-influenced GOP is poised to erupt, if and when Obama follows through on his promise.

"The audacity of this president to think he can completely destroy the rule of law with the stroke of a pen is unfathomable to me," said GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, an outspoken opponent of relaxing U.S. immigration law. "It is unconstitutional, it is cynical, and it violates the will of the American people."

Some Republicans have even raised the possibility of impeachment.

Here's a timeline of then and now:

-1986. Congress and Reagan enacted a sweeping overhaul that gave legal status to up to 3 million immigrants without authorization to be in the country, if they had come to the U.S. before 1982. Spouses and children who could not meet that test did not qualify, which incited protests that the new law was breaking up families.

-1987. Early efforts in Congress to amend the law to cover family members failed. Reagan's Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner announced that minor children of parents granted amnesty by the law would get protection from deportation. Spouses and children of couples in which one parent qualified for amnesty but the other did not remained subject to deportation, leading to efforts to amend the 1986 law.

-1989. By a sweeping 81-17 vote, the Senate in July voted to prohibit deportations of family members of immigrants covered by the 1986 law. The House failed to act.

-1990. In February, President George H.W. Bush, acting through the Immigration and Naturalization Service, established a "family fairness" in which family members living with a legalizing immigrant and who were in the U.S. before passage of the 1986 law were granted protection from deportation and authorized to seek employment. The administration estimated up to 1.5 million people would be covered by the policy. Congress in October passed a broader immigration law that made the protections permanent.

-2012. In July, the Obama administration announces a new policy curbing deportations for certain immigrants brought illegally to the country as kids. The policy, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), applies to people younger than 30 who were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 and meet other criteria such as graduating high school. It has now granted two-year deportation reprieves and work permits to nearly 600,000 people.

-2013-2014 (Congress). After months of work, the Senate in June of 2013 passes, 68-32, a huge immigration overhaul bill that includes a path to citizenship for immigrants who meet strict criteria. The House fails to act. In a televised interview with Telemundo, Obama says expanding the DACA program to cover the parents of children allowed to remain in the country under the program "would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that's not an option."

-2014 Frustrated by Congress' inability to act on immigration, Obama announces in June that he'll use executive powers to cover as many as 5 million people. Like Bush, Obama is expected to extend deportation protections to families of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Obama's anticipated action would not award legal status, but it would offer temporary protection from deportation and the possibility of obtaining a work permit. He delayed action until after Election Day. On Monday, Democratic leaders sent a letter to Obama saying they strongly support his plans to take executive action on immigration.

RELATED: Ronald Reagan's diplomatic relationship with Margaret Thatcher

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Reagan-Thatcher
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2 GOP presidents acted unilaterally on immigration
President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tour the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, California, February 4, 1991. Thatcher's husband Denis is at right. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
President Reagan chats with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during State Arrival Ceremonies Thursday, February 26, 1981, at the White House. (AP Photo/stf)
President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher talk outside the Oval Office at the White House, July 17, 1987. (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite)
President Ronald Reagan is shown with the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, at the White House on February 20, 1985. (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite)
Leaders at the Summit - Heads of government attending the economic sumit in Williamsburg, Va., pose in front of the Colonial Capitol Sunday morning, May 29, 1983. From left : Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau; President European Communities Gaston Thorn; West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl; French President Francois Mitterrand; U.S. President Ronald Reagan; Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone; United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Italian Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani (AP-Photo/Ira Schwarz) 29.5.1983
Toronto Summit - Leaders at the Economic Summit in Toronto, Canada, line up for an outdoor photograph during the summit which lasted June 19 to 21, 1988. They are from left: U.S. President Ronald Reagan; Canadian Brian Mulroney; France's Francois Mitterrand; UK's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; Japan's Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita; Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany; Italy's Prime Minister Ciriaco de Mita, and EC President Jacques Delors. (AP-Photo) 19.6.1988
Jaqu, First Meeting- Heads of State sit down to their first session in the annual summit of industrialized nations Monday, May 5. 1986 at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, Clockwise from left to foreground; prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, Japan; President Francois Mitterrand, France; Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, Netherlands; President of the European Communities Jacques Delors; Chancellor Helmut Kohl, West Germany; Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, England; Prime Minister Bettino Craxi,Italy; Prime minister Brian Mulroney, Canada; and President Ronald Reagan, USA. (AP-Photo)
U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dance during the final state dinner of Reagan's presidency at the White House in Washington, D.C., Nov. 16, 1988. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan leads former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on tour of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Ca., Monday, Feb. 4, 1991. In background is a piece from the Berlin Wall donated to the library. Thatcher is visiting the United States to attend Reagan's 80th brithday celebration Feb. 6. (AP Photo/Devork Djansezian)
U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher review an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony for Thatcher on the White House lawn in Washington, D.C., Nov. 16, 1988. (AP Photo/Scott Stewart)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, second left, stands with, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, left, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, second right, and Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at London's Buckingham Palace, prior to a dinner for summit leaders, June 10, 1984. (AP Photo)
U.S. President Ronald Reagan, left, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wave from the door of 10 Downing Street in London, England, Thursday, June 7, 1984. The American president is attending a dinner given by Thatcher for western leaders attending the Economic Summit conference. (AP Photo/Dave Caulken)
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, left, and U.S. President Ronald Reagan stand outside the White House in Washington, D.C., in 1983, during Thatcher's visit to the United States. (AP Photo/White House)
U.S. President Ronald Reagan speaks on the lawn of the White House with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher standing behind him during her visit to Washington, D.C., June 23, 1982. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
U.S. President Ronald Reagan drives British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a golf cart after her arrival for a private visit at Camp David, Md., Dec. 22, 1984. (AP Photo)
U.S. President Ronald Reagan, right, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are seen at Camp David, Md., Dec. 22, 1984, during Thatcher's private visit. (AP Photo)
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, center, and U.S. President Ronald Reagan, left, look at models of a space station in London, England, on June 6, 1984. (AP Photo)
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pauses at the casket of former President Ronald Reagan where he was lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 9, 2004. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
U.S. President Ronald Reagan shakes hands with Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, prior to talks at 10 Downing Street, London, June 2, 1988. (AP Photo)
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher looks on as President Ronald Reagan of the United States looks at some papers during the opening session of the Economic Summit conference at London's Lancaster House on June 8, 1984. (AP Photo/Lana Harris)
President Ronald Reagan shakes hands with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher shortly after he arrived at 10 Downing Street, London, on June 5, 1984. (AP Photo)
President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan greet British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis as they arrive for a state dinner at the White House in Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 1988. This was the final state dinner for the Reagan's who have hosted some 54 previous dinners for heads of state. Thatcher was the first foreign leader to be honored by the couple at such an event early in 1981. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)
iFormer President Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, right, arrive at Reagan's 80th birthday party in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 1991. Proceeds from the $2500 per plate party are to be used for the Reagan Presidential Library. Behind the Reaganas is Merv Griffn abd Eva Gabor. AP Photo/Julie Markes)
Ronald Reagan walks with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as Mrs. Reagan and Thatcher's husband Dennis follow after the White House in Washington welcoming ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 1988. The President and the Prime Minister then met in the Oval Office. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)
President Ronald Reagan and Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stroll together in the grounds of Lancaster House on Friday, June 8, 1984 after the first session of the annual Economic summit conference. (AP Photo)
President Ronald Reagan has a word in the ear of Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, at a reception given by the British Government at London's St. James Palace on Thursday evening, June 7, 1984 for leaders attending the Economic Conference. (AP Photo)
President Ronald Reagan, Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; Italian Premier Bettino Craxi, and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, examine a model of the proposed United States manned space station, during a break in the Economic Summit at London's Lancaster House on Saturday, June 9, 1984. The United States plans to spend eight billion dollars to build the space station. (AP Photo)
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, President Ronald Reagan, Japan's Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and Canada's Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (left to right) stand together in the garden of Palais Schaumburg here, today May 3, 1985, posing for a group shot during the World Economic Summit in Bonn. (AP Photo)
President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stand together at the White House on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 1988 in Washington during the official greeting ceremony for Thatcher. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
President Ronald Reagan stands by as Mrs.Nancy Reagan greets British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the White House on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 1988 in Washington. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
U.S. Pres. Ronald Reagan, left, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are shown talks at 10, Downing Street, Tuesday, June 5, 1984, London, England. (AP Photo)
U.S. Pres. Ronald Reagan, left, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are shown talks at 10, Downing Street, Tuesday, June 5, 1984, London, England. (AP Photo)
Pres. Ronald Reagan, left, folds his arms and listens, as Britains Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher issues the final communiqué of the Economic Summit, at the Guildhall, Saturday, June 9, 1984, London, England. (AP Photo)
President Ronald Reagan invites Britain?s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to make a statement following talks between the two at the White House, Thursday, Feb. 26, 1981 in Washington. (AP Photo)
President Ronald Reagan and Mrs. Nancy Reagan look on, as Britain?s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher reads from a document, prior to an official luncheon inside 10 Downing Street in London, Tuesday, June 8, 1982. President and Mrs. Reagan are currently on a three-day visit to Britain. (AP Photo)
President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher speak to reporters just after her arrival, Wednesday, June 23, 1982 at the White House in Washington for a meeting. Mrs. Thatcher flew to Washington after an address the United Nations disarmament conference in New York for their first meeting since British troops recaptured the Falkland Island on June 14. (AP Photo)
Britain?s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher talks with U.S. President Ronald Reagan as they walk in the garden of the American Ambassador?s residence in Paris, Friday, June 4, 1982. Both leaders are in France for the Summit to be held at the Palace of Versailles which begins with a opening session on Saturday. (AP Photo)
President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher shake hands just before her departure from the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 23, 1982. The two leaders met in the Oval Office, the first time they have been together since Great Britain recaptured the Falkland Island on June 14. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher addresses the State Arrival Ceremony in her honor at the White House in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 26, 1981, as President Ronald Reagan wipes his face with a handkerchief. (AP Photo)
President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Thatcher meet at Providence Hall in Williamsburg on Saturday, May 28, 1983. They are here for the 1983 Summit of Industrialized Nations. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)
Britain?s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan share a joke at the expense of the gallery of press photographers at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on Thursday, Nov. 21, 1985 before the start of the NATO Council meeting. (AP Photo/Fritz Reiss)
US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher congratulate each other on their speeches, in the Guildhall of the City of London on Friday, June 3, 1988. President Reagan was stopping over in London, following the Moscow Summit. First Lady Nancy Reagan is at center. (AP Photo)
Britain?s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gestures at the gallery of press photographers in action before the North Atlantic Council meeting at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on Thursday, Nov. 21, 1985. President Reagan is also amused. (AP Photo/Scott Stewart)
British Prime Minister Mrs. Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan have a walk in the garden of Palais Schaumburg in Bonn on Friday, May 3, 1985 on their way to attend family photo session of World Economic Summit here. (AP Photo)
President Ronald Reagan is pulled along by his pet dog ?Lucky? while he and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher take a stroll in the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 1985 in Washington. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan sit at the conference table during the opening of the seven-nation Economic Summit in Toronto on Sunday, June 19, 1988. (AP Photo/Martin Cleaver)
U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher shake hands, prior to a session of talks at 10 Downing Street in London on Thursday, June 2, 1988. President Reagan is stopping over in London on his way home from Moscow, to brief Mrs. Thatcher on his Summit Meeting with Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev. (AP Photo)
Former California Governor Mr. Ronald Reagan presenting a silver dollar medallion to Opposition leader Mrs. Margaret Thatcher when he visited her in her office at the House of Commons in London, on April 9, 1975. (AP Photo/Press Association)
Former United States President Ronald Reagan kisses former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as they met for tea at Claridges Hotel in London on Thursday, Dec. 6, 1990. Reagan?s wife Nancy, is obscured behind them. The two held a close relationship during their days of power and met at the Reagan?s hotel during his five-day visit to England. (AP Photo/Martin Cleaver)
Former President Ronald Reagan greets former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at a Republican Dinner in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 3, 1994 at which the gathering celebrated Reagan?s 83 birthday. (AP Photo/Shayna Brennan)
FILE - U.S. President Ronald Reagan, right, and Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, share a laugh during a break from a session at the Ottawa Summit in this file photo dated July 21, 1981, at Government House in Ottawa, Canada. Personal papers from 1981 released Saturday March 17, 2012, by the Thatcher archive at Cambridge University in England, reveal that Thatcher was fascinated by U.S. President Reagan, and that she snatched and kept a page of his doodles from this G7 summit in Ottawa. Reagan left the piece of paper adorned with his sketches, sitting on a table at the Ottawa meeting when Margaret Thatcher picked it up and kept it, it is revealed in her papers released Saturday. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - In this Feb. 20, 1985 file photo, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher meets with her friend and political ally President Ronald Reagan during a visit to the White House in Washington. Thatcher, who led Britain for 11 years, died of a stroke Monday morning, April 8, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)
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