Southland immigrant-rights activists hailed last Friday’s announcement of a federal policy change that will prevent the deportation and provide work permits for some undocumented immigrants who came to the country at a young age.

“Americans will look back on this day with pride and joy when they allowed these young people to fully contribute to the growth, prosperity and strength of our great nation,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “If what we heard today is exactly what happens, it was about time.”

The policy is expected to affect about 800,000 people across the country. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, also noted that Los Angeles is home to one of the largest population of these young people.

According to the Unted States Department of Homeland Security, the policy will apply–on a case-by-case basis–to undocumented immigrants who:
* came to the United States under age 16;
* are younger than 30;
* have continuously lived in the United States for at least five years;
* are enrolled in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate or are honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or Armed Forces; and
* have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, multiple misdemeanors or pose a threat to national security.

Speaking at the White House, President Barack Obama said the change is aimed at people who were likely brought into the country by their parents, and in many cases did not know they were undocumented until they tried to apply for a job.

“Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people,” he said.

The president insisted the policy was not amnesty, immunity, a path to citizenship or a “permanent fix” to the immigration system. He called it a “stop-gap measure” that gives “a degree of relief and hope to driven, patriotic young people.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

When news of the policy change broke, some immigrant-rights advocates marched in downtown Los Angeles, hailing the announcement and calling it a good first step, but saying more needs to be done.