President Obama announced today that his administration would stop deporting and begin granting work permits to hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants, saying the changes would make the nation's immigration system "more efficient, more fair and more just.
"These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they're friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper," Obama said from the Rose Garden of the White House.
The executive order, effective immediately, applies to illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 but are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five consecutive years, are in school or have graduated from high school or earned a GED, have no criminal history or have served in the military.
Immigrants who meet the criteria will no longer face the threat of deportation and can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on the number of times it may be renewed.
"Let's be clear. This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary, stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people. It is the … right thing to do," Obama said.
The election-year move has drawn sharp criticism from Republicans, who have accused the president of overstepping his authority. Obama today defended his decision, suggesting he was forced to take action because Congress has not.
The steps taken today are similar to the proposals in the Dream Act, which was supported by the administration but blocked in Congress.
"Both parties wrote this legislation, and a year and a half ago, Democrats passed the Dream Act in the House, but Republicans walked away from it. It got 55 votes in the Senate, but Republicans blocked it. The bill hasn't really changed; the need hasn't changed. It's still the right thing to do. The only thing that has changed, apparently, was the politics," Obama said.
The president continued to call on Congress to pass the legislation.
"There's no reason that we can't come together and get this done. And as long as I'm president, I will not give up on this issue, not only because it's the right thing to do for our economy… not just because it's the right thing to do for our security, but because it's the right thing to do, period. And I believe that eventually enough Republicans in Congress will come around to that view as well," he said.