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Illegal immigrant deportation of young people to stop, Obama announces

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WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives.

Photo: Associated Press

The election-year initiative addresses a top priority of an influential Latino electorate that has been vocal in its opposition to administration deportation policies.

"Let's be clear, this is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship, this is not a permanent fix," Obama said from the White House Rose Garden. "This is the right thing to do."

The policy change  will affect as many as 800,000 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.

"It makes no sense to expel talented young people who for all intents and purposes are Americans," President Obama said.

Obama said the change would become effective immediately to "lift the shadow of deportation from these young people."

Katya, a 22-year-old illegal immigrant who came to Maryland from El Salvador when she was just 9, may finally, she says, breathe easy.

"It’s just really emotional especially if you have been here for so long and you have felt like you don't really belong anywhere,” Katya says. “Now this is just a chance to say, yes, you do belong here and yes you can go to college and you can have a future and it's not just a dream anymore."

For others, it's not a dream. It's an injustice. One reporter Friday even challenged the president during his announcement.

Brad Botwin, from Help Save Maryland, says with unemployment dangerously high, this is a tragic move.

"We're gonna allow millions of Hispanics now and other illegal immigrants to take jobs away, to work, I'm just flabbergasted by this.” He says.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was to announce the new policy Friday, one week before President Barack Obama plans to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials' annual conference in Orlando, Fla.

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 U.S. high school or earned a GED, 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.

The policy will not lead toward citizenship but will remove the threat of deportation and grant the ability to work legally, leaving eligible immigrants able to remain in the United States for extended periods.

"Many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways," Napolitano wrote in a memorandum describing the administration's action. "Prosecutorial discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here."

The extraordinary move comes in an election year in which the Hispanic vote could be critical in swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida. While 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.

The change is likely to cause an outcry from congressional Republicans, who are sure to perceive Obama's actions as an end run around them. Republicans already have complained that previous administration uses of prosecutorial discretion in deportations amount to back-door amnesty. Romney and many Republican lawmakers want tighter border security measures before considering changes in immigration law.

Romney opposes offering legal status to illegal immigrants who attend college but has said he would do so for those who serve in the armed forces.

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