President's Speech Offers Hope To Immigrants

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President's speech offers hope to immigrants
By Associated Press, adapted by Newsela staff
Word Count 604

Rosa Lozano, from Washington, (left) translates the speech into Spanish as Lita Trejo, from El Salvador, and Texas Democratic State Representative Ramon Romero listen to President Barack Obama's speech on a tablet during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. Obama announced executive actions on immigration during a nationally televised address. Photo: AP Photo/Alex Brandon
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced a stop in deportations Thursday. Nearly 5 million people in the U.S. illegally will be able to stay. He also said attempts to track down illegal immigrants will aim for "felons, not families."

Obama's changes affect U.S. immigration laws. They are the largest changes in almost 30 years.

The president spent months trying to get a law passed through Congress. When Congress didn't act, he took action on his own. He used executive actions. They allow Obama to pass rules without Congress.

Obama Versus The Republicans

By doing so, Obama set off a fierce fight with Republicans. They are a group of lawmakers who don't want to make immigration to the U.S. easy. They claim Obama went over the limits of his presidential powers.

In a TV speech, Obama defended his actions. He challenged Republicans to not block his measures. Instead, he asked them to pass a law to take the place of his executive actions.

"To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill," Obama said.

As Obama spoke from the White House, immigration supporters marched in Washington D.C. They walked with American flags draped over their shoulders. They carried signs that read, "Gracias, Presidente Obama."

Obama's actions could make it harder for an immigration law to pass. Republicans are angry and are feeling strong right now. They recently took control of Congress in elections.

They are deciding how to answer the president's actions. Some have talked of taking legal action or shutting down the government.

Young People Can Stay, Criminals Must Leave

Obama's actions affect many illegal immigrants. Yet more than 11 million people live in the U.S. illegally. Half of them won't have their problems solved.

The president announced new deportation rules. Serious criminals and people who have recently crossed the border will be tracked down by police. They may be forced to leave the U.S. People who have been in the U.S. for more than 10 years will not be.

Obama said his actions were not an amnesty. An amnesty for illegal immigrants would forgive them for entering the U.S. illegally. It would also give them the right to stay in the U.S.

An amnesty would affect all illegal immigrants. Obama's actions mostly affect parents and young people.

One group will benefit most: adult immigrants who have been in the U.S. illegally for more than five years. Some have children who are citizens or permanent residents. If so, they can apply to not be deported. They'll also be able to work here. Before doing so, they'll have to pass background checks and pay money.

About 4.1 million people could qualify.

Kids Can Help Parents Stay

Obama is also adding to his rule from 2012. It delayed deportation for some young immigrants who entered the country illegally. But they had to have arrived in the U.S. as children before 2007. Now if they came before 2010 they could avoid deportation. In all, those changes could affect about 300,000 people.

Delays from deportation last for three years at a time.

Also, more adult immigrants could become U.S. citizens. Adult citizens can already sponsor their parents for immigration. Obama's plan goes a step further. Now, young citizens can sponsor their parents.

Immigration supporters gathered around the country to listen to the president. Many have sought the changes for years.

"This is a great day for farmworkers. It's been worth the pain and sacrifice," said Jesus Zuniga, a 40-year-old who picks tomatoes in California.