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And with a single policy directive last week, President Obama took control of an issue of special importance to Hispanics this election year. He said illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children who are no older than 29, plus meet certain residency and education requirements, will not be subject to deportation. That's an important goal for those who support the Dream Act, a bill long stalled in Congress.
The president's action has implications for as many as 800,000 young immigrants, and also, as NPR's Greg Allen reports, for a rising star in the Republican Party, Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Like many so-called DREAM Act-ers, young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, Frida Ulloa says she was taken by surprise by the president's announcement on Friday. She says she realized something was up when she was deluged by text messages.
FRIDA ULLOA: So I turned on the news, and I hear the news and I was like, Oh my God. I was so shocked. I was crying.
ALLEN: Ulloa is 23, a senior at Florida International University in Miami and an undocumented immigrant. She came to the U.S. with her parents from Peru when she was 15. Days after the president's announcement, Ulloa is still excited that after years of meetings and demonstrations, Mr. Obama listened to the DREAM Act-ers and removed the threat of deportation.
There are some Hispanics, however, who are critical of the president's decision, none more so than Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: I don't think that anyone watching this doubts that it was for political reasons.
ALLEN: Rubio, a Cuban-American from West Miami, appeared on Fox News this week - part of a publicity blitz to promote his new autobiography. For months, Rubio said, he was working to craft a compromise bill that would allow DREAM Act kids to stay in America without granting them a path to citizenship. That's exactly what President Obama accomplished last week.
In doing so, Rubio says he believes President Obama overstepped his constitutional authority. At the same time, Rubio says, the president lessened the chances that he and others in Congress can craft a bipartisan consensus on the DREAM Act and immigration reform.
RUBIO: He's basically taking a very significant issue that needs to be solved in a long-term way that's measured, reasonable, and balanced, and decided by edict, by fiat basically, to solve it in the short-term, which happens to coincide with the November election.
ALLEN: DREAM Act advocate Frida Ulloa says Rubio's response has left her puzzled. Before he was a senator, she says, he told her he would support the DREAM Act. Since then he's changed his position on the bill. And Ulloa says Rubio's talk about a compromise has gone nowhere.
ULLOA: He says that he's going to do something but he hasn't really shown us what he's planning on doing. And to criticize this move, I don't understand it. You know?
ALLEN: With President Obama's action, Rubio's effort at building a compromise appears dead for now. In some ways, that may let him off the hook. The chances that he'd be able to convince conservative Republicans in an election year to support a bill to help young illegal immigrants was always somewhere between unlikely and impossible.
But there are many in the Republican Party with a lot riding on Marco Rubio and the possibility that he can appeal to Hispanic voters - either as a future leader or on the bottom half of a presidential ticket with Mitt Romney.
Miami political consultant Ana Navarro says Republicans have work to do if they hope to win the Hispanic vote away from President Obama.
ANA NAVARRO: What Republicans are going to have to do is focus on immigration and the fact that he didn't deliver on his entire promise. He made a promise to give us a diamond ring. And after three and a half years of waiting and seeing that we were falling out of love with him, he showed up with a cubic zirconium. But this is far from the vow he made to the Hispanic community four years ago.
ALLEN: Until Friday's announcement, there was a lot of evidence that Hispanic voters - who were an important part of Barack Obama's margin of victory four years ago - had lost much of their enthusiasm for the president. A chief concern was the administration's tough deportation policy, but also his failure to turn around the lagging economy.
But a new survey by the polling group Latino Decisions shows the power of the presidency. With his order halting deportations, the survey shows enthusiasm among Hispanics for President Obama has jumped dramatically, more than a 50-point turnaround from earlier in the year.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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