NEW YORK: President Barack Obama announced that the US government will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the US as children and have since led law-abiding lives.
He made the announcement in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on Friday.
So, hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children now can obtain work permits and be safe from deportation.
President Barack Obama said the immigration system will become "more efficient, more fair and more just" under a new policy.
His policy directive cast into sharp relief longstanding political differences on immigration, one of the most divisive and delicate issues being debated as the November elections approach.
Latinos and other immigrants have pleaded for the policy change since Congress turned aside an effort to pass similar legislation two years ago.
Republicans were quick to criticize Obama. They said he was overstepping his powers in an end run around Congress.
But the president said he was acting only "in the absence of any immigration action from Congress to fix our broken immigration system."
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said he would prefer a legislative solution.
That echoed comments earlier in the day from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who said such a stopgap change would make it harder to reach a permanent solution.
Romney did not respond to questions about whether he would revoke the order if elected.
Effective immediately, the policy will apply to people who:
Are no more than 30 years old.
Arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16.
Have lived in the country for five years.
Have no criminal record.
In addition, those eligible must have earned a high school diploma, be in school or have served in the military.
These qualifications resemble those of the DREAM Act. That measure was geared to establish a path toward citizenship for certain young illegal immigrants, but it blocked by Congress in 2010.
The administration`s action Friday stops deportations but does not offer citizenship or permanent legal status. It was a policy directive from the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration enforcement. It does not require legislation.
What the younger immigrants will obtain, officials said, is the ability to apply for a two-year "deferred action" that effectively removes the threat of deportation for up to two years, with repeated extensions.
"This is not immunity; it is not amnesty," said Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security. "It is an exercise of discretion."
People whose deferrals are approved will be able to apply for work permits, which will be dealt with case by case, officials said. They estimated the policy would cover about 800,000 people.
Obama`s action falls short of what some advocates have been seeking from an overhaul of the immigration system, and some Hispanic leaders have expressed disappointment that he has not done more.
But the new policy represents a sharp contrast to the tone the Republican presidential candidates took during the primary season, when Romney opposed the DREAM Act and took a hard line against illegal immigration.
Romney has sought to build support among Hispanics mostly by emphasizing jobs and other economic issues over immigration. Obama`s new policy could put pressure on the Republican to address the situation of young people who were brought to the United States illegally and have deep ties to their communities.
But it has also given Republicans a chance to portray the president as acting in a blatantly political way in search of votes at a time when his campaign is being weighed down by slow job growth.
Rubio called the administration`s approach "a short-term answer to a long-term problem." He had been suggesting that Congress should enact a somewhat similar policy by law.
"There is broad support for the idea that we should figure out a way to help kids who are undocumented through no fault of their own," Rubio said.
"But there is also broad consensus that it should be done in a way that does not encourage illegal immigration in the future. This is a difficult balance to strike, one that this new policy, imposed by executive order, will make harder to achieve in the long run."
Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, a Democratic leader who had been seeking such an action for two years with other senators, called it "perfectly appropriate and legal."
As recently as Thursday, the president said he would like Congress to go even further, giving some such people a path to citizenship.
Some critics said it can be hard to verify, years after the fact, the age at which someone arrived in this country or even how old they are now.
An aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said this was a problem with the DREAM Act, too, and suggested that more than twice as many people might be covered as estimated.
BDST: 0955 HRS, JUN 16, 2012
Edited by: Mohammed Humayun Kabir, Sr Newsroom Editor
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