The Obama administration announced Friday it will stop deporting illegal immigrants who come to the country at a young age.
The politically charged decision comes as Obama faces a tough reelection fight against Republican Mitt Romney, and Hispanic voters in swing states will play a crucial role in the contest.
The change in policy could allow as many as 800,000 immigrants who came to the United States illegally not only to remain in the country without fear of being deported, but to work legally, according to a senior administration official speaking to reporters Friday.
In a Rose Garden statement, President Obama said the measure would “lift the shadow of deportation” from immigrants, some of who have made “extraordinary contributions” by “serving in our military and protecting our freedom.”
“That we would treat them as expendable makes no sense,” Obama said.
“They study in our schools, play in our neighborhoods … they pledge allegiance to our flag, they are Americans in their hearts and minds … and in every single way but one: on paper.”
Obama was briefly interrupted by a reporter during his statement, a rare breach of protocol that caused the president to lose his temper.
“Excuse me sir, it’s not time for questions, sir, not while I’m speaking,” Obama said.
Later in his statement, Obama, pointing his finger at the reporter in front of the live TV cameras, said: “And the answer to your question, sir — and the next time I prefer you to let me finish by statements before you ask a question — is this is the right thing to do for the American people. I didn’t ask for an argument, I’m answering your question.”
The new policy will not grant citizenship to children who came to the United States as illegal immigrants, but will remove the threat of deportation and grant them the right to work in the United States.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the policy change will apply to those who came to the United States before they were 16 and who are younger than 30 if they have lived here for five years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or served in the military.