Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who entered the United States as young children no longer face deportation, and will soon be able to apply for work permits under new rules announced Friday.
"These are people who study in our schools, play in our neighborhoods, ... pledge allegiance to our flag," President Barack Obama said at a White House event trumpeting the rule changes. "They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper."
The policy change comes as President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaign for Latino and minority votes ahead of November's election.
But not all young illegal immigrants will be eligible under the new plan.
The Obama administration's new rules apply only to illegal immigrants age 30 and younger who don't pose a risk to national security, Reuters reports. Those with felony or significant misdemeanor convictions will not be eligible.
The immigrants must also have entered the United States when they were 15 or younger. And they must either be in school, have graduated from high school, or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. military.
While an estimated 1 to 2 million illegal immigrants in the United States entered the country as children, the Obama administration's rule change affects about 800,000 of those immigrants.
The new policy is "not immunity, it is not amnesty," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano emphasized in a conference call with reporters, according to Reuters.
It's also "not a path to citizenship," President Obama said.
The policy change helps to "ensure that resources are not spent pursuing the removal of low priority cases involving productive young people," Napolitano said.
Naturally, not everyone is welcoming the change. One critic called the new policy "a magnet for fraud." "Many illegal immigrants will falsely claim they came here as children and the federal government has no way to check whether their claims are true," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, told Reuters.
Such concerns may be addressed once full details about the Obama administration's new rules for young illegal immigrants become public. Until then, young immigrants looking to apply for new work permits may want to contact a local immigration lawyer about the best way to proceed.