In a move that's firing up the right and left, the Department of Homeland Security announced Friday that it will stop deporting the children of illegal immigrants.
But, there's a catch.
The policy will only apply to those younger than 30 who came to the country before the age of 16, were students or in the military, and pose no criminal or security threat, according to DHS. Those who qualify will be eligible for work permits, among other things.
READ MORE: Immigration changes are coming
"[This] is not immunity, it is not amnesty," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. "[It's] well within the framework of existing laws [and] is simply the right thing to do."
Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona and longtime immigration advocate, appealed to Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which includes policy objectives similar to today's change.
When asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer if this is a pathway to citizenship, Napolitano said "not at all."
"In fact, that’s where Congress needs to act, and we continue to urge the Congress, you know, pass the Dream Act, look at comprehensive immigration reform, the immigration system as a whole," she said. "You know, I’ve been dealing with immigration enforcement for twenty years, and the plain fact of the matter is, is that the law that we’re working under doesn’t match the economic needs of the country today, and the law enforcement needs of the country today."
During a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama said the changes will make immigration policy "more fair, more efficient and more just."
"This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix," Obama said. "This is a temporary stopgap measure."
At one point, Obama's speech was interrupted by a reporter for the "Daily Caller." The visibly agitated president shot back, "Next time time let me finish."
Laura Vazquez, the spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, an influential immigration group, said "In light of the Congressional inaction on immigration reform, this is the right step for the administration to take at this time."
In an election year that has Obama is in the fight of his political life, Republicans like Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina are crying foul. They speculate that Obama is trying to win over Hispanics, one of the largest growing voting blocs in this country (though polls have show they overwhelmingly support Obama).
“Mr. President, I don’t think this is a wise way to fix a broken immigration system. This decision avoids dealing with Congress and the American people instead of fixing a broken immigration system once and for all," he said on his Twitter account. "This is a classic Barack Obama move of choosing politics over leadership.”
On the House side, Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith said the policy violates Obama's oath to uphold the laws of the land.
“How can the Administration justify allowing illegal immigrants to work in the U.S. when millions of Americans are unemployed?" he said in a statement. "President Obama and his administration once again have put partisan politics and illegal immigrants ahead of the rule of law and the American people. With this track record, it’s looking more likely that even President Obama may lose his job in this economy when Americans go to the polls this November.”
But influential Democratic senators like Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York said inaction by Republicans in Congress forced the president's hand.
“I first made this request of the Administration two years ago and renewed it with the support of 21 Senators last year," Durbin said in a statement. "Because the House has refused to consider the DREAM Act and a filibuster blocked it in the Senate, this Presidential action was absolutely necessary to serve the cause of justice.”
He applauded the administration's decision, saying it's "an historic humanitarian moment."
"This action will give these young immigrants their chance to come out of the shadows and be part of the only country they’ve ever called home," he said said. "These young people did not make the decision to come to this country, and it is not the American way to punish children for their parents’ actions. I commend President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano for their courage and leadership."
Schumer said, "In one fell swoop the President has accomplished what far too few Republicans were brave enough to even discuss." He added, "The President has done all he can and it is now up to our colleagues across the aisle to join us in finishing the job and passing the full and undiluted DREAM Act."