(Newsroom America) -- The Obama administration plans to stop deporting younger illegal immigrants who came into the U.S. as children and will instead grant them work permits, if they have led law-abiding lives since and meet other criteria, reports said Friday.
The election-year ploy is being undertaken by a White House that has found itself in a dogfight with a rising Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who will be named the Republican presidential nominee when the party launches its convention in Tampa later this summer.
The Associated Press reported the initiative "addresses a top priority of an influential Latino electorate that has been vocal in its opposition to administration deportation policies."
The change will affect as many as 800,000 illegals who have been living in fear of deportation. The Executive Branch action also bypasses Congress, which may prove problematic, and implements at least a portion of the controversial DREAM Act, a piece of legislation long opposed by members of both parties who say its expedited path to citizenship will only more people to enter the U.S. illegally.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who - as a former governor of Arizona - wrestled constantly with a Republican-dominated state Legislature over immigration control issues - was scheduled to announce the policy change on Friday.
Analysts said her announcement is politically timed - just a week before President Obama is to meet with members of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Orlando, Fla. The decision to act without Congress, however, is likely to draw condemnation from lawmakers, especially Republicans who have been opposed to the DREAM Act because they say it rewards illegal behavior.
Under the administration's plan, illegal immigrants who can to the U.S. before they were 16 years old, have not been in legal trouble, have been in the U.S. for five or more consecutive years, graduated from a U.S. high school or received a GED, or have served in the U.S. military, will be eligible for immunity.
The policy is not designed to lead towards citizenship but will allow those who qualify to remain in the country legally and work. The AP said it is close to a plan offered by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has been mentioned as a potential Romney running mate.
"Many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways," Napolitano wrote in memo describing the administration's action. "Prosecutorial discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here."
Some details of how the plan will work, such as how much immigrants will have to pay to apply and what sort of proof they will need to become eligible are still being worked out, AP reported.
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