Immigration policy change draws criticism from Hispanics

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Too little, too late.

That's what Hispanic voters gathered here for the Republican National Convention said of policy change that took effect this month, allowing up to 1.2 million children of illegal immigrants to stay in the United States if they head to college or the military.

Many Hispanic Americans say they are looking for the kind of permanent immigration reform President Barack Obama promised during his 2008 campaign and still hasn't delivered on. His executive order fell short in both substance and process, many gathered here said. Because it wasn't passed through Congress it can be changed at any time putting young people at risk again for deportation.

"We're all scratching our heads and saying if he really cared about this, why didn't he do it three years ago? To us it's a totally political move," said Jennifer Korn, executive director of the national Hispanic Leadership Network, which hosted a policy briefing in Tampa Tuesday.

Still, the executive order provides hope for a more permanent solution, said Clarissa Martinez, director of civic engagement and immigration for the National Council of La Raza, the largest Latino civil rights advocacy group in the country.

Although the executive order doesn't have the permanence of law, it would be difficult for any president or Congress to reverse the policy now that it's in place, Ms. Martinez said in a telephone interview.

"It would be highly problematic policy-wise and politically for somebody to come in and all of a sudden go after these children. The court of public opinion favors finding a solution for the plight of these children ... many who were brought here as toddlers and who know no other country as their own," she said.

Mrs. Korn and Ms. Martinez said Latinos are looking for immigration policy that secures borders while it creates a sensible guest worker policy, speeds the visa application process and allows immigration quotas to fluctuate in accordance with the changing needs of the American economy.

"We're looking from a pragmatic view and realizing it's going to have to be bipartisan," Mrs. Korn said.

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