President Obama announced a radical shift in federal immigration policy on Friday in what many see as a desperate attempt to resurrect his struggling reelection campaign by catering to a key Democratic constituency.
The president announced that his administration would immediately begin offering work permits to young illegal immigrants who meet a certain set of criteria, completely bypassing Congress, where lawmakers have been unable to agree on a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Senior administration officials told reporters on a conference call Friday that as many as 800,000 illegal immigrants could be affected by the change in policy, but dismissed suggestions that the move constituted a de facto amnesty.
“Let’s be clear, this is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship, this is not a permanent fix,” Obama said from the White House Rose Garden. “This is the right thing to do.”
Obama indicated that the move was necessary because Congress had not yet passed the DREAM Act, controversial legislation that would establish a “path to citizenship” for young illegal immigrants.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the policy was “consistent with our existing use of prosecutorial discretion” with respect to immigration enforcement and “well within the framework of our existing laws.”
However, a number of legal and political analysts questioned the president’s legal and constitutional authority to ordain such a policy without Congressional approval. “Can this be authentic? It seems impossible under law,” wrote conservative commentator David Frum.