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Jose Machado and Daniela Pelaez tell NBC 6 what the immigration change means to them. President Obama said he would halt the deportation of undocumented youth and allow a way for them to seek work permits.
In the wake of President Obama’s announcement to halt the deportation of undocumented youth and allow a way for them to seek work permits, Florida Senator Marco Rubio issued a mixed statement and called the change a “short-term answer.”
“Today’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short-term answer to a long term problem,” Rubio said in a statement. “And by once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short-term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long term one.”
The major policy change, announced Friday, would take effect immediately and allow undocumented immigrants that are younger than 30 and were brought to the United States before they were 16, to apply for a two-year work permit. The youth must also have been in the country for at least five consecutive years, have no criminal history, graduated from high school or have a GED or served in the military.
In a Friday press conference, Obama said it "makes no sense to expel talented young people" and said he was taking action in the absence of action by Congress. "This is the right thing to do," he said.
As many as 800,000 immigrants could be affected by the plan.
"Many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote in a memorandum describing the administration's action. "Prosecutorial discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here."
Though Rubio has been working toward an alternative to the controversial DREAM Act, in light of Friday’s news, he said the policy change could make it harder to find a permanent solution.
“There is broad support for the idea that we should figure out a way to help kids who are undocumented through no fault of their own, but there is also broad consensus that it should be done in a way that does not encourage illegal immigration in the future. This is a difficult balance to strike, one that this new policy, imposed by executive order, will make harder to achieve in the long run,” he said.
Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen welcomed the measure and said the move met the goals of the DREAM Act she had co-sponsored.
“This nation benefits from the creativity and hard work of those who come to our shores seeking a brighter tomorrow. I have been a staunch supporter of the Dream Act since its introduction in 2006. I have met with countless dreamers like Gaby Pacheco and Daniela Pelaez who simply want to give back to this great country. Many bright, talented and patriotic young men and women will now have the opportunity to stay in this country – a country that they love – and to continue their education or service in our proud military," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.
Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski also welcomed Obama's move, saying that the president did administratively basically what Rubio proposed to do legislatively.
"While it does not provide permanent legal residency or a clear path to U.S. citizenship, it does give these young people the opportunity to work and to pursue their education in this country until a more comprehensive reform of our broken immigration system can be achieved in the U.S. Congress," Wenski said in a statement. "Until such comprehensive legislation is passed by Congress, the DREAM for these and millions of other immigrants is still a DREAM deferred."
Congressman David Rivera, who represents Florida's 25th Congressional district, has been lobbying to pass a separate immigration bill, the Studying Towards Adjusted Residency Status (STARS) Act, that would allow undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 to adjust their residency status if they earn a degree from an accredited four-year institution of higher education as well as meet other criteria.
Rivera said he was inspired by North Miami Senior High School graduate Daniela Pelaez, an undocumented student, to draft the bill. She sparked a big community movement when she was nearly deported this spring, but was granted a temporary reprieve.
“It’s great because it's creating precedence, and I'm honored to know that it was my case and the support of other activists that brought this about," Pelaez said Friday.
She said the day should not be about politics but about the undocumented kids like her who are good students, or good soldiers who want to be part of the U.S. military.
Obama's policy is a win not just for Pelaez and her cause, but for one of her friends.
"She was actually going back to Columbia, she was in these last couple of days buying the plane ticket, and (I sent) her the text message, don't go, you get to stay, and it's really emotional, you know," Pelaez said.
Cheryl Little, the executive director of Americans for Immigrant Justice, said that her group is elated.
"For years we have been saving DREAMers one by one from immigration detention and deportation. They are aspiring bankers, engineers, artists, teachers and positions. We know that their talent will enrich our country," Little said in a statement. "Kudos to the Obama administration for offering them a path out of the shadows."
Americans for Immigrant Justice held a news conference at the Miami-Dade College Wolfson campus where "DREAMers" discussed what Obama's announcement means for them.
“You know my mom got deported last year, and you stay in the country, you don’t know what to do. There’s no doors for you, there’s nowhere to go," said Jose Machado, 17, who came here from Nicaragua.
But now, he said, "we’re going to move from the shadows into the light, and now all our doors will be opened, and we'll be able to contribute back to this country."