WASHINGTON - Ignoring his opponents’ protests, President Obama will assert his executive authority to order a broad overhaul of the immigration system, including a plan to give work permits to millions, officials said.

The move is certain to lead to a showdown with Republicans, who have blocked Democrats’ efforts in Congress to reform immigration laws and warned the president not to take unilateral action on immigration. The New York Times, citing unidentified administration officials with direct knowledge of the plan, said Obama’s proposed overhaul may be announced as soon as next week. Officials said it would allow many parents of children who are US citizens or legal residents to obtain work documents and stay in the United States.

The Times said Obama’s plan will provide more opportunities for immigrants with high-tech skills and add security resources to the border with Mexico. Undocumented immigrants with family ties in the United States and no criminal record also would be considered lower priority for deportation than those with criminal records or who are considered security risks. Republicans, who won control of Congress in Nov. 4 elections, have warned Obama not to take unilateral action on immigration.

Obama told congressional leaders last Friday he was committed to using executive powers to ease some restrictions on undocumented immigrants since Republicans in the House of Representatives had refused to advance immigration legislation. Mitch McConnell, who will be Senate majority leader starting in January, said if Obama took unilateral action on immigration, it would be like ‘waving a red flag in front of a bull.’ When the new Congress convenes in January, Republicans will have majorities in both chambers.

Meanwhile, The Hill, a newspaper which covers Congress, reported that comprehensive immigration reform could make millions of people suddenly eligible for assistance under President Obama’s healthcare law, assuming a final deal paves the way for undocumented immigrants to receive papers.  

Illegal aliens are now prohibited from purchasing coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, which will launch next year. They are also ineligible for Medicaid under most circumstances, making the law’s expansion of the program fruitless for people without documents. Even young illegal immigrants with ‘deferred action’ status, known as ‘DREAMers,’ cannot access the law’s benefits. But the picture could change completely if Hispanic lawmakers get their wish - an overhaul of US immigration policy that includes a path to legalization.