President Barack Obama's announcement of immigration changes that will protect nearly five million people living in the US illegally from deportation has infuriated Republicans, but has also left them scrambling for a response that will not undermine their prospects in the 2016 presidential election.

Obama's measure, which will make nearly half of those living the US illegally eligible for work permits, has been criticised by Republicans as an amnesty for lawbreakers and an abuse of presidential powers.

House Speaker John Boehner said on Friday that Obama was "damaging the presidency itself" with his unilateral action on immigration and added that the House of Representatives, in which the Republicans have a majority, would not "stand idle and let it happen".

Speaking at a news conference the morning after Obama delivered his landmark announcement from the White House, the Ohio Republican offered no hint as to what steps the House might take to block Obama's move.

The president's plans would offer deportation relief and work permits to those who entered the country illegally, but with children born in the US.

If the parents have been in the US for at least five years, they could apply for protection from deportation and then for work permits.

'Deaf ear'

Boehner disputed criticism that Obama had to act because House Republicans never delivered an immigration reform bill.

"The president has turned a deaf ear to the people he was, and we were, elected to serve," Boehner said.

"He repeatedly suggested he was going to unilaterally change immigration law and created an environment where members would not trust him.

"I repeatedly told him his actions were making it impossible for me to do what he wanted me to do."

Obama's immigration reforms

When pressed on what the House was going to do in response to Obama's announcement, Boehner said they would follow the "democratic process".

"We have a broken immigration system, and the American people expect us to work together to fix it and we ought to do that through the democratic process," he said.

Obama said on Thursday that his executive actions were a "common sense" plan consistent with what previous presidents of both parties had done.

"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," Obama said.

Republicans, who take full control of Congress in January after capturing the Senate from the Democrats, warned that Obama would face serious consequences for what they described as an unconstitutional power grab.

Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington, said the Republicans would be unable to do a great deal about the reforms.

"Usually the power Congress has is in the budget," she said. "The agency that will enforce these rules, however, doesn't get any federal money."

'Precarious situation'

Al Jazeera's Shihab Rattansi, reporting from Washington, said that Obama had not issued any new laws, but was imposing an executive order to reinterpret existing legislation.

"He is using authority as president to interpret existing laws and that is a role the president has always played," he said.

"People are still in a very precarious situation as this decision could be overturned by the next president, and so it would be a huge risk to come out of the shadows, as once the government know who people are they could be arrested."

Rattansi added that the move could have a lot to do with the fact Obama only has two years left in office.

"He has been making promises on immigration since he got into office and he has never kept any of them really," he said.

"He always had to act otherwise it would be an enormous betrayal."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies