WHITE HOUSE - The Obama administration says its new immigration policy could spare as many as 800,000 illegal immigrants in the United States from deportation. The change addresses a concern of influential Hispanic voters in an election year.
In the Rose Garden, President Barack Obama announced Friday that the U.S. government will stop deporting young immigrants who entered the country as children and who have since lived within the law.
“I have got a young person who is serving in our military, protecting us and our freedom. The notion that, in some ways, we would treat them as expendable makes no sense,” Obama said.
The president said the new policy will not lead toward citizenship, but will remove the threat of deportation and allow the immigrants to work legally.
“Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization,” Obama said.
Under the plan, illegal immigrants will not be deported if they are younger than 30 and were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16. They also must have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned an equivalent diploma, or served in the military.
The initiative also allows those affected to apply for a work permit that will be good for two years and can be renewed with no limits.
Obama is making the move in an election year in which Hispanic voters could influence the outcome of the election in several states where the vote is expected to be close.
Also, the president is scheduled to speak next Friday to the annual conference of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, in Florida.
A public opinion poll, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, taken last month showed that the president holds a big 61% to 27% lead over Republican candidate Mitt Romney among Latinos.
But Hispanic leaders have raised concerns with Mr. Obama over the record number of recent deportations. The U.S. deported almost 400,000 people in 2011, and is likely to expel slightly more this year.
The initiative achieves some of the goals of the so-called DREAM Act, which Congress voted down in 2010. The legislation would establish a path toward citizenship for young people who came to the U.S. illegally but have attended college or served in the military.
The president said he is issuing the temporary order because Congress has not addressed comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system.
“There is still time for Congress to pass the DREAM Act this year, because these kids deserve to plan their lives in more than two-year increments. And we still need to pass comprehensive immigration reform that addresses our 21st century economic and security needs,” Obama said.
Governor Romney said he agrees with Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American who recently proposed a similar immigration policy, that Mr. Obama's plan is not helpful in the long term.
"This is an important matter. We have to find a long-term solution, but the president's action makes reaching a long-term solution more difficult," Romney said.
Other Republicans have blasted the president’s move as a political stunt. Republican Congressman Steve King from the Central state of Iowa said in a statement that “Americans should be outraged that President Obama is planning to usurp the Constitutional authority of the United States Congress and grant amnesty by edict to one million illegal aliens.”