In an election-year policy change, the Obama administration said Friday it will stop deporting young illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children if they meet certain requirements.
The shift on the politically volatile issue of immigration policy prompted immediate praise from Latino leaders who have criticized Congress and the White House for inaction, while Republicansreacted with outrage, saying the move amounts to amnesty -- a negative buzz word among conservatives -- and usurps congressional authority.
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Those who might benefit from the change expressed joy and relief, with celebratory demonstrations forming outside the White House and elsewhere.
Pedro Ramirez, a student who has campaigned for such a move, said he was"definitely speechless," then added: "It's great news."
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Joe Arpaio asks 'why now' to immigration In a Rose Garden address Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama said the changes caused by his executive order will make immigration policy "more fair, more efficient and morejust."
"This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix," Obama said to take on conservative criticism of the step. "This is a temporary stopgap measure."
Noting children of illegal immigrants "study in our schools, play in our neighborhoods, befriend our kids, pledge allegiance to our flag," Obama said, "it makes no sense to expel talentedyoung people who are, for all intents and purposes, Americans."
When a reporter interrupted Obama with a hostile question, the president admonished him and declared that the policy change is "the right thing to do."
Under the new policy, people younger than 30 who came to the United States before the age of 16, pose no criminal or security threat, and were successful students or served in themilitary can get a two-year deferral from deportation, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
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It also will allow those meeting the requirements to apply for work permits, Napolitano said, adding that participants must be in the United States now and be able to prove they have been living in the country continuously for at least five years.
Thechange is part of a department effort to target resources at illegal immigrants who pose a greater threat, such as criminals and those trying to enter the country now, Napolitano said, adding it was "well within the framework of existing laws."
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The move addresses a major concern of the Hispanic community and mimicssome of the provisions of a Democratic proposal called the DREAM Act that has failed to win enough Republican support to gain congressional approval.
Obama has been criticized by Hispanic-American leaders for an overall increase in deportations of illegal aliens in recent years. Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 396,906 illegal immigrants, the largest number in theagency's history.
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Friday's policy change is expected to potentially affect 800,000 people, an administration official told CNN on background.
Both Obama and Napolitano called for Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would put into law similar steps for children of illegal immigrants to continue living and working in the country.
"I'vebeen dealing with immigration enforcement for 20 years and the plain fact of the matter is that the law that we're working under doesn't match the economic needs of the country today and the law enforcement needs of the country today," Napolitano told CNN. "But as someone who is charged with enforcing the immigration system, we're setting good, strong, sensible priorities, and again these young...
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