(WASHINGTON) — President Obama is relaxing rules for younger illegal immigrants who haven’t broken the law since coming into the country as children.
The Homeland Security Department will no longer deport those immigrants, and work permits will be given to them, administration officials confirmed to ABC News.
The widening pathway to citizenship is similar to the proposals in the Dream Act, legislation supported by Obama but blocked in Congress. Obama is scheduled to speak about the change this afternoon, effectively bringing the issue of immigration back into the 2012 race.
“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement. “But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here.”
The Obama administration is likely to deny that politics played a role in the announcement, but the timing is ideal for the president’s reelection campaign. In the GOP primary, Mitt Romney adopted strictly conservative positions against illegal immigration in his effort to woo right-wing voters. He backs a strong fence along the border with Mexico, opposes most amnesty and boasts of his move as Massachusetts governor to deny in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.
Democrats have said they plan to hold Romney to those positions, painting him as a candidate with extreme views on immigration. Romney’s campaign stumbled last month when the Republican National Committee’s director of Hispanic outreach told reporters that Romney was “still deciding what his position on immigration is,” fueling the notion that he holds few true convictions.
Obama’s announcement today is likely to curry favor with Hispanics, a key growing voting bloc who could determine the winner in November in important states like Florida, Colorado and Nevada. The president currently beats Romney among Hispanics in polls, but most Latinos say they disapprove of his deportation policy. Obama also plans to speak to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Florida next week, as will Romney.
Under the new rules, up to 800,000 immigrants will be affected. Deportation will no longer apply to immigrants who came into the country before they were 16 and are now under 30, have lived here for five straight years, have never been convicted of a crime, graduated from high school or got a GED, or have been in the military.
Those immigrants will be allowed to apply for a two-year work permit that can be renewed unlimited times.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ralph Ellis, Randi Kaye and Dakin Andone, CNN
Samantha Beech, CNN
Stephanie Elam, CNN