The US government said it would begin accepting applications later this month from young undocumented immigrants who hope to avoid deportation under a new policy.
|President Barack Obama during a visit to a border post between the US and Mexico|
Starting August 15, "individuals will be able to submit a request for consideration of deferred action" to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters.
In a historic development in June, President Barack Obama suspended the deportations of young illegal immigrants under 30 who came to the United States before the age of 16 and meet certain requirements.
The plan was largely welcomed by the Latino community and analysts say it could boost Obama's chances for re-election on November 6.
More than 800,000 people could benefit from the policy change, according to government figures, though researchers believe the number is closer to 1.4 million.
The affected youths can apply for a permit, which costs $465, that lasts two years and can be renewed. The high price tag is designed to fund the program.
A senior administration official said it could take "several months" to get the permit because applicants must undergo a vigorous background check.
Family information that is provided to authorities is confidential and cannot be used to open deportation cases, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In announcing the measure, Obama said it would not be an "amnesty" or a pathway to citizenship, but that it was "the right thing to do."
Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney has said that Obama's move is largely driven by politics ahead of November's election.
The "guidance undermines the rule of law and gives lawbreakers an unfair advantage over legal immigrants," Republican Congressman Lamar Smith said Friday.
But Ali Noorani, head of the non-governmental National Immigration Forum, disagreed.
"Thanks to deferred action, these American-raised, hardworking young immigrants will finally have a chance to put their diplomas to work," Noorani said.
There are 11.5 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, mostly of Hispanic origin, and efforts to deal with their status have foundered over sharp political divisions.
Under Obama, more than 1.3 million undocumented migrants, a record number, have been deported since 2009.