The U.S. took a step toward reducing the threat of deportation for at least hundreds of thousands of young people living in the country illegally on Friday as President Barack Obama said his administration would consider giving qualified applicants work permits, adding that the move was not amnesty, immunity or a path to citizenship.
"This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people," he said on Friday at the White House.
A permanent change to the nation's policies would require new legislation from Congress, which has so far been resistant to a proposal which would affect many of the same people the President targeted with his decision on Friday.
The move outlined by the Department of Homeland Security early Friday calls for a two-year "deferred action" period allowing those who can prove they were physically living in the U.S. for a certain period to be able to apply for work permits.
Criteria includes having entered the country before the age of sixteen and not currently be older than thirty. Other criteria include having lived in the country for five years, being a student, being a high school graduate or having obtained an equivalency. Others include being an armed forces veteran, not having been convicted of a felony or posing a threat to national security or public safety.
Linda Hartke, the CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service applauded the decision in a released statement, calling it a "bold" and "urgently needed policy change."
The organization has been calling for similar action since 2010.
LIRS is a cooperative agency of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Church in America. The Chairman of the group is the bishop of ELCA's New Jersey Synod, Rev. Roy E. Riley.
She said the move builds support for the DREAM Act - proposed legislation currently stalled in Congress - that would open a path to citizenship to many young adults living in the country illegally.
"This announcement builds on bipartisan interest in protecting immigrant youth from deportation and investing in them as future leaders of our great nation," she said.
On Thursday a group of 150 evangelical leaders known as the Evangelical Immigration Table, gave announced they support immigration reform, including a path to citizenship to millions of people in the country.
Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners, a Christian social justice advocacy group, noted about 1 million young people would be affected by the decision.
"This week a very broad and deep table of Evangelical leaders called on the political leaders of both parties to fix that broken system and protect 'the stranger' whom Christ calls us to defend," he said. "As Evangelicals we love the 'good news' of the gospel, and today we affirm this good news that gives hope and a future for young immigrants who are an important part of both the church and this country."