With the US presidential campaign in full swing, incumbent Barack Obama has ended the deportation of immigrants who entered the US illegally as children. Republicans have attacked the move as politically motivated.
US President Barack Obama on Friday ordered a halt to deportations for immigrants who entered the country illegally as young children, paving the way for some 800,000 migrants to legalize their residency in the US.
The move by-passed the Republican-controlled Congress, touching off a torrent of criticism among many conservatives as the presidential campaign season swings into full gear. Hispanics, a key voting bloc in hotly contested swing states, will be the most directly affected community by the executive order.
There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the US, around 2 million of whom entered the country as children. Most of the nation's illegal immigrants are from Latin America.
The executive order grants immunity from deportation to immigrants who entered the US illegally when they were under the age of 16 if they are currently no older than 30. Those immigrants must also either be currently enrolled in school, have graduated from high school or been honorably discharged from the military. In addition, they must have no prior criminal record.
"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," President Obama said from the White House Rose Garden. "This is the right thing to do."
Olive branch to Hispanic community
President Obama carried the Hispanic vote by a two-to-one against Republican Senator John McCain during the 2008 presidential election. But Obama's standing with the Latino community has suffered due to the record number of deportations that his administration has conducted since taking office.
The Obama administration deported 396,906 illegal immigrants in 2011 and is expected to deport another 400,000 this year. Some 59 percent of Hispanics disapprove of the president's ramped-up deportation campaign, according to a poll published by the Pew Hispanic Center in December 2011.
The decision to ease such deportations for illegal immigrants who entered the US as children could help Obama defend swing states - such as Colorado, Nevada and Florida - against 2012 Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney.
Next Friday, President Obama plans to address the National Association for Latino Elected and Appointed Officials at its annual conference in Orlando, Florida. Romney is to address the association on Thursday.
Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer attacked the president's move as legally and politically questionable, calling it "backdoor amnesty." Brewer signed a 2010 bill into law which requires police to determine the immigration status of anyone they suspect to be illegal.
The US Supreme Court could rule as early as Monday on the constitutionality of provisions within the law that have been blocked by an injunction.
"Now is not the time to grant broad amnesty to nearly 1 million people," said Brewer. "And now is not the time to approve something via executive fiat that the president knows he could never get through Congress."
But Florida Senator Marco Rubio, pegged as a possible vice presidential candidate for the Romney ticket, offered a more measured response.
"Today's announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short-term answer to a long-term problem," said Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants.
"And by once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short-term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long-term one," the senator said.
slk/msh (AP, Reuters)