Oct 22, 3:43 PM EDT

White House says immigration plans not final yet


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House on Wednesday cautioned against making assumptions about President Barack Obama's changes to immigration rules based on a new federal contract proposal from the Homeland Security Department to buy enough supplies to make as many as 34 million immigrant work permits and residency cards over the next five years.

The Associated Press reported earlier in the day the contract proposal suggested that the Obama administration appeared to be preparing for an increase in the number work permit applications form of immigrants living illegally in the country. The U.S. government produces about 3 million work permits and residency identification, known as green cards, annually. The new contract for at least 5 million cards a year would provide the administration with the flexibility to issue far more work permits or green cards even if it chose not to exercise that option.

"I think those who are trying to read into those specific orders about what the president may decide are a little too cleverly trying to divine what the president's ultimate conclusion might be," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "What I would caution you against is making assumptions about what will be in those announcements based on the procurement practices of the Department of Homeland Security."

Earnest did not say whether Obama plans to issue more work permits.

Obama announced earlier this year that if Congress didn't pass immigration legislation, he would act on his own. After twice postponing a final decision, he said as recently as last month that he would hold off on executive actions until after November's midterm elections.

The administration has repeatedly declined to say what options Obama was considering, but it is widely believed that he will expand protections from deportation already extended to more than 500,000 young immigrants who came to the United States as children. Under that program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, many young immigrants who are in school or who have graduated and don't have a criminal record can win protection from deportation for up to two years. They are also eligible for work permits.

The president does not have the legal authority unilaterally to offer immigrants living in the country illegally green cards or any other permanent immigration status. But administration officials have said the president can authorize protection from deportation for immigrants on a case-by-case basis, such as with the DACA program, and issue them work permits.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez told an audience at a Georgetown University Law Center conference Tuesday that his agency was ready for whatever immigration changes Obama may announce. He declined to provide details.

USCIS confirmed to the AP on Tuesday that it published a draft contract proposal to buy the card stock needed to make work permits and permanent resident cards, more commonly known as green cards. The proposal calls for providing material for at least 5 million cards a year, with as many as 9 million "during the initial period ... to support possible future immigration reform initiative requirements." The contract calls for as many 34 million cards over five years.

USCIS spokesman Christopher Bentley described the proposal posted earlier this month a routine contract solicitation.

"Solicitations of this nature are frequent practice," Bentley said. He said the number of immigration applications can rise "for any number of any reasons."

The contract proposal was first reported by the online news site Breitbart.com.

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Follow Alicia A. Caldwell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/acaldwellap

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