Southland immigrant-rights activists hailed today'sannouncement of a federal policy change that will prevent deportation andprovide work permits for some undocumented immigrants who came to the country at a young age.
"Americans will look back on this day with pride and joy when they allowed these young people to fully contribute to the growth, prosperity and strength of our great nation," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. "If what we heard today is exactly what happens, it was about time."
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the policy will apply -- on a case-by-case basis -- to undocumented immigrants who:
-- came to the United States under age 16;
-- are younger than 30;
-- have continuously lived in the United States for at least five years;
-- are enrolled in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate or are honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or Armed Forces; and
-- have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, multiple misdemeanors or pose a threat to national security.
Speaking at the White House, President Barack Obama said the change is aimed at people who were likely brought into the country by their parents, and in many cases did not know they were undocumented until they tried to apply for a job.
"Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people," he said.
The president insisted the policy was not amnesty, immunity, a path to citizenship or a "permanent fix" to the immigration system. He called it a "stop-gap measure" that gives "a degree of relief and hope to driven, patriotic young people."
"It's the right thing to do," he said.
When news of the policy change broke, some immigrant-rights advocates marched in downtown Los Angeles, hailing the announcement and calling it a good first step, but saying more needs to be done.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-El Monte and chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, called the announcement a "momentous" policy change.
"Every year, tens of thousands of students who were raised in this country have their hopes of a higher education, and a brighter future, dashed, simply because of their immigration status," Chu said. "It is unfair that a young person, brought up as an American, in American schools, cannot benefit from the opportunities afforded by a college education because of their parents' mistakes."
The announcement was met with anger by some. Obama was interrupted during his announcement by someone questioning why undocumented immigrants should be granted work permits when the nation's unemployment rate is already high.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform issued a statement online saying the policy announcement "is a clear indication that the Obama administration intends to grant blanket relief to illegal aliens on its own initiative, completely circumventing Congress, which has repeatedly rejected the DREAM Act over the past 10 years."
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa praised Obama's announcement in strong terms.
"By ending the deportation of certain young immigrants and making them eligible to work in this country, President Obama has taken a bold step in the direction of a more humane and more sensible immigration policy,'' Villaraigosa said. "His action today upholds some of America's most cherished values -- our belief in opportunity and fairness and our tradition of openness and inclusion.
"This is only a first step and much still needs to be done," Villaraigosa cautioned. "Now it is up to Congress. Let's expand the circle of opportunity even more and finally pass the DREAM Act. Let's finally achieve comprehensive immigration reform."
City Councilman Jose Huizar called the announcement a ``small step,''
but said he wished Obama had been doing more on the issue earlier in his
"He got a way late start on speaking on these issues," Huizar said. "I think now he's beginning to realize the importance of the Latino vote to his re-election and his administration is probably looking to say they've been doing something on it."
"He's got to do more," Huizar added.
Councilman Eric Garcetti, who is running for mayor, was more enthusiastic about the announcement.
"I've always thought main-streaming people into the daylight where they can pay taxes, where they can engage in civic responsibility, can only benefit a city like Los Angeles," Garcetti said. "We're the Ellis Island of the West Coast, the crossroads of the world, and this is welcome policy for our economy."
Councilwoman Jan Perry, another mayoral candidate, called it a "practical and realistic approach to the realities that these families are facing" of immigration today and said it would bring a sense of optimism to illegal immigrant families in the city.
Thomas Z. Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the announcement ``holds out the promise of significant, even transformative, benefit to the entire nation by ensuring that some of our most capable and committed young people are finally given the opportunity to work and to safely contribute to our economic competitiveness and our national development."