SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — US President Barack Obama has announced an immediate end to the deportation of illegal immigrants who came to the US as children, describing the move as "the right thing to do".
Those aged between 16 and 30 who have lived in the US for five years could now be eligible for work permits.
The move is seen as addressing a key Latino concern in an election year.
But Mr Obama's Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, said it was the wrong way to approach the problem.
Mr Romney said the issue should be dealt with by legislation, rather than an executive order "that can be reversed by subsequent presidents".
The plan, which goes into effect immediately, is expected to affect as many as 800,000 people.
Mr Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney are courting Hispanic voters in key states ahead of November's election.
Speaking at the White House, Mr Obama said the initiative was "the right thing to do", adding that "it makes no sense to expel talented young people" from the US.
The president also said the measure had been announced in "the absence of any immigration action" from Congress and urged the passage of the Dream Act, a bill that aimed to establish a path towards US citizenship for young people who were brought to the US as minors.
"They are American in their hearts, in their minds, in every way but one: on paper," Mr Obama said.
He said the measure would improve the US economy, benefit its national security and was simply "the right thing to do. Period".
In an unusual turn of events, Mr Obama was interrupted by a questioner from the media during his announcement, an intervention which left the president visibly surprised.
Earlier on Friday Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said deportation laws were not designed to be "blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case".
"Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here," she added.
The policy change does not provide a path to permanent lawful status, or a path to citizenship, Ms Napolitano said, adding that it is not immunity or amnesty.
But, she added, many "productive young people" who would be eligible under the changes posed no threat to national security or public safety.— www.shafaqna.com