President Barack Obama has announced major changes to the United States government's immigration policies. The changes will affect millions of people who entered the country without permission. The president took the action through an official declaration, known as an "executive order."
Mr. Obama spoke to the American people Thursday night. He said the U.S. immigration system is not working.
"It's been this way for decades. And for decades, we haven't done much about it."
The president said his order will help immigrants to, in his words, "come out of the shadows." It temporarily protects some illegal immigrants from being expelled from the country, a process called "deportation." It also gives them permission to work. But they must have been in the United States at least five years and have no criminal record. And they must have at least one U.S.-born child.
"It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive."
U.S. immigration officials will spend less time removing people and their families who entered the country without permission.
They will instead increase efforts against terrorists, criminals and people who only recently entered the United States illegally.
The Obama administration says the executive order increases "the chances that anyone attempting to cross the border illegally will be caught and sent back."
The order expands a program for young people who had come to the United States as children and had spent at least five years in the U.S. It protects foreign citizens from being returned home for three years if they entered the U.S. before 2010 and are attending school.
"Are we a nation that educates the world's best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs here?"
U.S. officials estimate there are more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. The president's plan will affect about five million of them.
The changes announced Thursday night will not take effect until early next year. An administration official said it is not possible to make an announcement and put the policy into effect the next day.
Political observers expect opposition to the changes. Some critics say the president does not have the power under the Constitution to make major immigration policy changes using an executive order. The president said he does.
"The actions I'm taking are not only lawful, they're the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every single Democratic president for the past half century. And 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."
I'm Christopher Cruise.