President Obama said Friday his administration would stop deporting some illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children and have gone on to be productive and otherwise law-abiding residents.

According to Washington Post reporting, Obama described his decision as the "right thing to do for the American people," and said it "makes no sense to expel talented young people" who are essentially Americans. He says he was taking the action in the absence of action by Congress "to fix our broken system."

The announcement followed a years-long dispute between the president and immigration advocates, who had warned in a series of private encounters that he would lose credibility with Hispanic voters if he did not use his power to help a group of young people that had become the most visible and sympathetic target of his administration's aggressive deportation policies.

The president had long insisted that he lacked the legal authority to halt the removals, calling instead for passage of the Dream Act, the stymied legislation intended to put many illegal immigrant students and veterans on a path to citizenship. But the White House began to feel more pressure from advocates this spring when a prominent Hispanic Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, began working with activists on a scaled-back version of the bill.

On Friday, Obama seemed to find a middle ground, granting a two-year reprieve from deportation for certain eligible immigrants but not granting them legal status.

"These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they're friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag," Obama said during an afternoon Rose Garden appearance. "They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper."

Eligible immigrants will now receive "deferred action," which essentially means a two-year reprieve from deportation along with the chance to apply for a work permit. The decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, and officials said Friday that not everyone granted the reprieve will immediately gain the right to work.

The deferral will be available to immigrants who can prove that they came to the United States when they were younger than 16, have lived in the country continuously for at least five years and are currently in the country. They must be in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or be honorably discharged veterans of the military or the Coast Guard. They also must not be older than 30 and must never have been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, multiple misdemeanor offenses or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

The change was not imposed by executive order. Instead, it effectively extends an existing policy of "prosecutorial discretion," in which immigration officials last year were instructed to prioritize the removal of felons, repeat border crossers and others considered to be security risks. Officials said the government would continue its aggressive enforcement policies but with greater care not to remove young people who came as children.

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