Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.
President Obama unveiled a major immigration policy shift on Friday that will offer the chance for hundreds of thousands of young(ish) illegal immigrants to avoid deportation, an election-year announcement that quickly drew objections from conservative lawmakers (and immediately from at least one conservative journalist).
"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 during a Rose Garden speech, during which he was heckled by a reporter from Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller website. "This is the right thing to do."
The executive order, which is effective immediately, could affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who came to this country as children and who currently live in fear of deportation. The president stressed that the shift was a temporary, stopgap solution to a larger problem, but hailed it as a significant step toward making the nation’s immigration system "more fair, more efficient and more just."
Anticipating the conservative criticism that followed, Obama went on the offensive, blasting Republicans for blocking passage of the DREAM Act, legislation that would create a path toward citizenship for young people who came to the United States illegally but who then attend college or join the military.
The Associated Press explains what the announcement means in practice:
"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."
Of course, this being an election year, as significant as the new policy is for the nation's immigration policy, it also has political ramifications: it could significantly help the president’s reelection bid, which may now be bolstered by support from a Latino community that has long hoped for sweeping immigration reform.
The New York Times with the political analysis:
"The decision highlighted the importance of Latino voters to Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign. Many of the states in which the election will be decided — Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia among them — have large and growing Hispanic populations. Mr. Obama’s action falls short of what some advocates have been seeking [for] … But the new policy represents a sharp contrast to the tone the Republican candidates for president took on the issue during the primary season, when Mitt Romney, now the party's presumptive nominee, opposed the Dream Act and took a hard line against illegal immigration."
As the AP reminds us, the announcement comes one week before Obama is to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ annual conference in Orlando. Mitt Romney will address the group on Thursday.