Many see the president's move to bypass Congress and introduce US immigration policy as a big risk.
18 June 2012
Obama takes action on US immigration
Just a few months before the general election, President Obama has taken a big risk by using his executive powers to make changes to US immigration policy.
Changes to US immigration policy is typically a slow process; recommendations and bills progress slowly through the Houses of Congress and can be struck down at any time. However, the president, in an apparent attempt to appeal to young and Hispanic voters, has circumvented Congress to introduce legislation.
Under his executive order, which takes effect immediately, illegal immigrants aged between 16 and 30 who were taken to the US as children and have lived there for five years, haven't committed a crime and either be in school or have graduated high school or have served in the US military, will be eligible to apply for a US visa which will allow to seek employment.
Announcing the order which is predicted to affect 800,000 people, President Obama said that while the measure was a "stop-gap" until proper legislation can be passed, it was the "right thing to do. Period."
"They are American in their hearts, in their minds, in every way but one: on paper," said President Obama, adding that "it makes no sense to expel talented young people."
President Obama promised whole scale reform of the US immigration system as part of his 2008 election manifesto but has failed to pass the DREAM Act, which would provide the same illegal immigrants a chance to earn their citizenship, a failure his opponents have seized upon.
US immigration is currently a heavily debated issue in American politics with politicians from both sides of the aisle proposing their own solutions. Democratic proposals typically centre on a more humane approach while Republicans favour a tougher solution.
Mitt Romney, the president's Republican challenger in November's election, has previously trodden this hard line, even going so far as to promise to veto the DREAM Act should he be elected president, but has softened his rhetoric since securing his party's nomination.
However, he quickly took the opportunity to criticise the president's announcement, accusing the president of pandering to election year politics in a cheap attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters.
"If he really wanted to make a solution that dealt with these kids or with illegal immigration in America, then this is something he would have taken up in his first three and a half years, not in his last few months," said the former Massachusetts governor.
"He called it a stop-gap measure. I don't know why he feels stop-gap measures are the right way to go."
Speaking to CBS's Face the Nation yesterday, Mr Romney refused to say whether he would reverse the measure as president, despite being asked directly by the interviewer three times.
Instead Mr Romney said the order "would be overtaken by events, if you will, by virtue of my putting in place a long-term solution with legislation which creates law that relates to these individuals such that they know what their setting is going to be, not just for the term of a president but on a permanent basis."
Mr Romney has previously promoted a policy of 'self-deportation' which would make it all but impossible for illegal immigrants to do anything but leave the country, including attending school and finding work. He has also labelled Arizona's controversial immigration law a 'model for the nation' but has taken a dramatic step back in recent months.
Mr Romney now says he would support Florida Senator Marco Rubio's Republican alternative to the DREAM Act, which is yet to be revealed in detail, a move Democrats have derided as hypocritical.
"It's ironic coming from Governor Romney, who said he would veto the DREAM Act, whose immigration policy during the primary seemed to consist of just sending 11 million people home, asking them to self-deport," said senior Obama adviser David Plouffe.
Both candidates are attempting to appeal to Hispanic voters, widely considered the demographic which holds the deciding vote in November's election. While President Obama enjoyed a significant margin in 2008, many doubt his ability to secure a similar victory in November and his use of executive powers to bypass Congress and introduce liberal measures are also likely to alienate conservative voters.
And while Mr Romney's tough rhetoric and conservative roots are unlikely to appeal to many Hispanics, his support of Hispanic Republican Marco Rubio, widely considered a favourite for the vice presidential nomination have significantly tightened the contest to secure the crucial vote.
The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries make their ESTA application.