Latin American Leaders Laud Obama's 'Act of Justice' on Immigration

The new policy also expands eligibility for the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that benefits young adults brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The program would allow an additional 330,000 people, according to Pew estimates, to apply for and receive temporary deportation relief. Previously, the program was available only to those up to age 30, but the executive action would lift that age cap. In addition, the program would allow immigrants who arrived as children illegally before Jan. 1, 2010, to become eligible, expanding the program beyond the original June 15, 2007, cutoff date.

While work permits and deportation relief will be available, those covered by the programs will not be eligible for certain government benefits, including subsidies for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. The executive order increases the number of visas for skilled workers and spouses of green card holders. Other changes focus on the deportation of felony offenders.

Even though about 4 million unauthorized immigrants may be eligible for deportation relief, according to Pew, it remains to be seen how many people will apply for and receive it. Under the 2012 DACA program, an estimated 1.1 million people ages 30 or younger were eligible for deportation relief and a two-year work permit. Through June 30, 2014, only about 712,000 applied.

A recent Pew Research Center survey determined that Latinos place a priority on the relief from deportation offered by the executive action. They maintain that it is more important that unauthorized immigrants be able to live and work in the U.S. without threat of deportation than have a pathway to citizenship by a 56 percent to 35 percent margin.

Pew said nearly 31 million Latinos in the U.S. self-identify as being of Mexican origin, representing two-thirds of all U.S. Latino population. Pew said Mexicans are not only the largest Latino origin group in the U.S. but the youngest with a median age of 25.

Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, said Obama displayed “courage” in deciding to “move forward toward a fair goal that did not deserve to be further postponed.”

The president, Insulza said, “recognizes the contribution that these millions of workers make every day to the greatness of the United States and the need to normalize their presence in the country.” The executive order, he added, “distances them from illegality and brings them closer to a life of dignity in this country.”

Central American leaders in September mutually settled on a plan to enhance economic growth in the region and slash illegal immigration. The plan centers on significant infrastructure spending and energy projects.