Immigrant-rights activists in San Diego and around Southern California hailed Friday's announcement of a federal policy change that will prevent deportation and provide work permits for some undocumented immigrants who came to the country at a young age.
» Sign Up For Breaking News Alerts» Like Us On Facebook» Follow Us On Twitter
"These young people are our future lawyers, doctors and teachers, and they come from working families," said Christian Ramirez of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium and San Diego Equality Alliance.
The policy is expected to affect at least 800,000 people across the country.
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 -- 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 she was 3 years old, Blinda Aguirre and her family flew from Mexico to San Diego.
When the family's visitor visa expired, she and her family stayed. Aguirre eventually graduated from high school in Escondido, and after years of worry she has finally exhaled.
"It's just relief," said Aguirre. "I did have fears of being deported, but not after today."
Sandra Diaz, a coordinator with a union that represents mostly Spanish-speaking janitors in San Diego, praised Obama's decision.
"We need a recognition of the contributions immigrants give to this country," said Diaz, of the Service Employees International Union, United Service Workers West.
"I think this is one of the most outrageous things he's done," said Pete Nunez, a former U.S. Attorney in San Diego.
Nunez called the move a blatant political play for Hispanic votes.
Numbers obtained by 10News shows an estimated 25,000 illegal immigrant students graduate from California high schools every year.
"It rewards people who have come here illegally regardless of circumstances, and it encourages more illegal immigration in the future," said Nunez.
Aguirre said what the policy really encourages is hope. After graduating from Palomar College, she applied for a transfer to UCLA.
In late April, Aguirre received a letter of acceptance from UCLA. It was a letter that arrived with some mixed emotions, both excitement and anxiety.
"My fear was going to college, graduating and not being able to work," she said.
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."
Copyright Do you have more information about this story? Click here to contact usCopyright 2012 by 10News.com. City News Service contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.