WASHINGTON / ELK MOUND, Wisc. (WEAU) (AP) -- President Barack Obama is easing enforcement of immigration laws, effective immediately. The new policy offers a chance for hundreds of thousands of younger illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. and work.
The change was immediately embraced by Hispanics, but criticized by congressional Republicans.
The policy change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the "DREAM Act."
Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military.
The president made his announcement in the White House Rose Garden. Midway through his remarks, Obama was interrupted by a reporter from a conservative online publication. Neil Munro of the Daily Caller shouted, "Why do you favor foreigners over American workers?" Clearly irritated, Obama said that he was explaining the policy, not looking for an argument, and that the change was the "right thing to do for the American people."
"This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving degree of relief and hope to talented driven patriotic young people. It's the right thing to do."
Criticism also came from the Federation of American Immigration Reform.
"It's fundamentally unfair to those who have come here legally. It simply rewards the illegal behavior and it encourages the future flows of illegal aliens," federation member Bob Dane said.
Gold'n Plump poultry company in Arcadia employs many immigrant workers in Arcadia, Wisconsin and released this statement regarding the president's announcement Friday: "As United States demographics change, our company, like other companies, employs a diverse work population. This population may include those who have immigrated from outside of our country. As part of our hiring process, those seeking employment with our company must produce documentation, verifying their eligibility to work in the United States as a condition of that employment. We follow current employment law and will continue to do so as new laws or changes are implemented. Our company supports comprehensive immigration reform. This change appears to be a step forward towards reform."
Lee Jensen owns the Five Star Dairy farm in Elk Mound. He has 12 immigrant workers from Mexico, many of whom could benefit from the new policy.
"This is an important issue and a step in the right direction," Jensen said. "(Immigrant workers here are) very calm around cattle, they seem to be good-natured that way."
Jensen said his workers have the paperwork he needed to hire them and he hopes others can recognize the need for the work immigrants do.
"Whether you want to buy lettuce or vegetables in any grocery store ... Hispanics had a part of that system to the grocery store," he said.
"We want dependable people and we want to treat people fair and we want them to be fair back with us." "If you're willing to get a little dirt under your fingernails and work up, America's a great country to be in, and that's what made our country. My grandfather was an immigrant from Denmark, and that story goes back to almost every one of us somewhere along the line."
The work permits are good for two years, and afterwards, workers could apply for an extension.