Janet Napolitano, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security announced a major change in the country's immigration policy, stating that illegal immigrants up to 30 years old who came to the United States as children and do not pose a risk to national security would be eligible to stay in the country and allowed to apply for work permits. Napolitano said, however, that the decision "is not a path to citizenship."
"This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It is not a permanent fix," President Barack Obama told reporters at the White House.
During Obama's two and a half years in office, approximately a million illegal immigrants have been deported - a record number in recent years. Naturally, this policy is not popular among the Hispanic population - the fastest growing U.S. minority group - but most of them tend to support Obama (especially given Republican Mitt Romeny's more conservative stance on immigration).
Still, the president fears many Hispanic voters will decide not to take part in next November's election, putting at risk his chances for a second term.
"This is a temporary stop-gap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people," Obama said. "It makes no sense to expel talented young people who for all intents and purposes are Americans."
While immigrant rights groups praised Obama for the move, Republicans were immediately up in arms. Members of Congress accused Obama of overstepping his authority and the decision should have gone through Congress. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith called Obama's decision a "breach of faith" that he said will have "horrible consequences" for unemployed Americans looking for jobs.
Early this year, during the Republican presidential primary campaign season, Romney said he favored "self-deportation" in which illegal immigrants would realize they would be better off returning to their native countries because they cannot find jobs in the United States.
In an attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters, however, Romney has argued that his plans to help revive the U.S. economy would translate into gains for this minority group.
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