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Gay rights leaders cheer Obama on immigration policy

Gay rights leaders are cheering the announcement that the Obama administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives.

The initiative – in the form of an executive order – addresses a top priority of an electorate that has been vocal in its opposition to administration immigration policies and last year’s record number of deportations.

The policy change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It also bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the DREAM Act, a long-sought but never enacted plan to establish a path toward citizenship for young people who came to the United States illegally but who have attended college or served in the military.

“It is the right thing to do,” President Barack Obama said during a White House announcement. “It makes no sense to expel talented young people ... who for all intents and purposes are Americans.”

There was no shortage of responses to the announcement from the White House, where, later on June 15, the president held an LGBT Pride celebration.

“President Obama has absolutely taken the right step today in extending the American dream to undocumented youth across this country," said Robin McGehee, executive director of the LGBT protest group GetEQUAL. "We're thrilled that the president has stood with DREAMers across the U.S. today and has finally extended the 'hope and change' to them that he promised in 2008.”

Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said, “GLAAD applauds the young, undocumented leaders, many of whom are LGBT, for their tireless advocacy to ensure that all Americans, including immigrants, have access to safety, equal opportunity and protection. This is another step forward in creating a society that is accepting, respectful and inclusive of all people.”

At the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, executive director Rea Carey said, "We applaud the Obama administration for taking this monumental and inspiring step. It shows true leadership. It is heartening to know that hundreds of thousands of young people will no longer have to live in daily fear of being forced out of the country, away from the life and dreams they have built. Our country will be better for it."

Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, added, "Today’s announcement is great news for our country. The young people who will be positively impacted are our classmates, our colleagues, our friends. They are America’s up-and-comers: future entrepreneurs, scientists, and public servants.  I can’t wait to see their vibrant potential realized."

The administration’s move comes in a year in which the Hispanic vote could be critical in tossup states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida that could go either Democratic or Republican.

While Obama enjoys support from a majority of Hispanic voters, Latino enthusiasm for the president has been tempered by the slow economic recovery, his inability to win congressional support for a broad overhaul of immigration laws and by his administration’s aggressive deportation policy.

Activists opposing his deportation policies last week mounted a hunger strike at an Obama campaign office in Denver and other protests were planned for this weekend.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the new policy early June 15, one week before Obama addresses the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ annual conference in Florida.

She said, “Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner. But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here.”

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