Washington: The Obama administration 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. The election-year initiative addresses a top priority of an influential Latino electorate that has been vocal in its opposition to administration immigration policies and last year`s record number of deportations.
The policy change, described to a news agency by two senior administration officials, will affect as many as 8,00,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It also bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the so-called DREAM Act, a long-sought but never enacted plan to establish a path toward citizenship for young people who came to the United States illegally but who have attended college or served in the military.
The extraordinary move comes in an election year in which the Hispanic vote could be critical in tossup states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida that could go either Democratic or Republican. While President Barack Obama enjoys support from a majority of Hispanic voters, Latino enthusiasm for the president has been tempered by the slow economic recovery, his inability to win congressional support for a broad overhaul of immigration laws and by his administration`s aggressive deportation policy.
Activists opposing his deportation policies last week mounted a hunger strike at an Obama campaign office in Denver, and other protests were planned for this weekend.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was to announce the new policy today, one week before Obama plans to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials` annual conference in Florida. Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney is scheduled to speak to the group on Thursday.
Obama planned to discuss the new policy today from the White House Rose Garden.
Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a US high school or earned an equivalent degree, or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed. The officials who described the plan spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it in advance of the official announcement.