Almost five million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States will have the chance to avoid deportation, under important changes to the immigration system announced by President Barack Obama.
The move, a so-called executive action bypassing the conservative-led Congress, has infuriated Republicans who have vowed to fight the measure.
The president again described the US immigration system as “broken”.
He unveiled details of his plan in a televised address.
“If you’ve been in America for more than 5 years, if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents, if you register, pass a criminal background check and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law, that’s what this deal is,” Obama said.
The president also pledged to crack down on new illegal immigrants trying to enter the US, whose numbers have provoked a crisis.
Deportations, the president said, would focus on “felons not families”.
His plan does not offer a path to citizenship or grant an amnesty.
But it is likely to have an impact with many Hispanics in the US.
Republicans argue the measure will encourage more to try to cross the border.