On Friday, the Obama administration announced that it will stop deportations and begin granting work permits for some Dream Act-eligible students.
“They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” Mr Obama said of those young people in a press conference announcing the policy change.
According to the Huffington Post, about 800,000 people are expected to come forward to receive deferred action from deportation.
The change will apply to young undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children, along the same lines as the Dream Act, a decade-old bill that passed in the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate in 2010.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters that the move is part of a general shift by the Obama administration to focus on deporting high-priority undocumented immigrants.
“This grant of deferred action is not immunity. It is not amnesty. It is an exercise of discretion so that these young people are not in the removal system,” she said.
“It will help us to continue to streamline immigration enforcement and ensure that resources are not spent pursuing the removal of low-priority cases involving productive young people. More important, I believe this action is the right thing to do,” she continued.
Obama’s announcement came at a time when popularity of the current president has dipped amid new worries of a weakening economy and a deepening European financial crisis that further threatens American jobs.
Which is more, the president revealed his plans considering immigration before a meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Florida. Romney also is set to address the group next week.
The meeting is likely to feature Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican who has pushed for legislation that would help children of illegal immigrants, reports Reuters.
In addition to this, the move also came as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a challenge to Arizona’s strict immigration laws that target people living and working in the state illegally. A ruling could come as early as next week.
Romney predicted that Obama’s decision will complicate to reach a long-term solution for young illegal immigrants “who come here through no fault of their own.” The candidate said he would like to see legislation to help such people but did not offer a plan of his own.
Early this year the Republican nominee said he was for “self-deportation” in which illegal immigrants realize they would be better off returning to their native countries after employment restrictions left them unable to find work in the United States.
However, some Republicans supported Obama in his Friday’s move.
“Today’s announcement by President Obama is a politically motivated power grab that does nothing to further the debate but instead adds additional confusion and uncertainty to our broken immigration system,” said Obama’s 2008 Republican challenger for the White House, Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Political analysts described Obama’s decision as a savvy strategy for what could be a very close race for the White House.
“The Obama administration knows it’s in a very tight race and if the margins that it enjoyed among unmarried women, gays, Hispanics and blacks don’t hold, then he might end up on the wrong end of this thing,” said Cal Jillson, a politics professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
“So he’s going around and touching all these bases,” the political analyst added.