Stephanie Muñoz, 20, felt a heavy weight come off her shoulders Friday.
Learning that she’d be employable when she graduates from her social work studies meant everything to her.
“People ask me, ‘Why are you going to school if you aren’t going to get a job,’ ” she said of her situation before Friday.
The West Valley resident was one of a handful of Hispanic residents with an emotional reaction to the action by President Barack Obama that eases enforcement of immigration policy for some illegal immigrants under the age of 30.
Muñoz said she has lived in this country since she was a year old, and it seemed logical that she should stay.
“If I were to ever go back, it would be so hard,” she said.
Embraced by Hispanics, Obama’s action touched off an election-year confrontation with many Republicans.
Mitt Romney, Obama’s GOP election foe, criticized the step but did not say he would try to overturn it if elected.
Some Republicans in Congress — and the governor of Arizona, whose state has been at the center of enforcement controversy — strongly criticized Obama’s action.
Romney said Obama’s decision will make finding a long-term solution to the nation’s immigration issues more difficult. But he also said the plight of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children is “an important matter to be considered.”
Clearfield resident Ted Dominguez, who was born in the United States, reacted very differently than Muñoz to Obama’s action.
“They treat them better than the people who was born here,” Dominguez said. “Why should we pay taxes to support their kids?”
Dominguez said he’s not the only one to feel that way. “They create problems for us (Hispanic-Americans legally in the U.S.),” he said.
Being asked for a green card when he was pulled over for a traffic violation is one example, he said.
“Why should we as taxpayers support their kids, while they are sending all their money to Mexico?” he said.
But another Hispanic man said Obama’s move was “absolutely the right thing to do.”
Jesse M. Soriano is the former director of both the Utah Office of Hispanic Affairs and the Utah Office of Ethnic Affairs.
“You have young people that were brought here and were raised here. They are Americans by any standard,” he said.
The Bountiful resident said deporting these young people would be criminal.
A machinist from Salt Lake City, Arthur Espinoza, said the decision was “really great” for the Hispanic community.
“There are a lot of young kids that came here without their choosing,” he said. “This will help them to better their lives.”
Frank Cordova, director of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, said he thought the decision was brilliant.
“It allows young people to serve their community well without worries of deportation,” he said. “I think we will get a lot more done now, as people have more faith in the government.”
Tony Yapias, president of Proyecto Latino, called the move momentous.
“For too long, the immigration issue has been a political football game,” he said.
“It’s about time the president decided to take action on this matter.”
He said as young people are allowed to work, they will pay more taxes.
The administration said the change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the “DREAM Act,” legislation that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who went to college or served in the military.
The move comes in an election year in which the Hispanic vote could be critical in swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida.
The change drew a swift repudiation from Republican lawmakers, who accused Obama of circumventing Congress in an effort to boost his political standing and of favoring illegal immigrants over unemployed U.S. citizens.
“President Obama and his administration once again have put partisan politics and illegal immigrants ahead of the rule of law and the American people,” Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, GOP chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
And Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a long time hardliner on immigration issues, said he planned to file suit to halt the policy.
Still, neither House Speaker John Boehner nor Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell addressed the issue, underscoring the difficulty for Republican leaders as they walk a fine line of trying to appeal to the nation’s fastest-growing minority group while not alienating their conservative base.
In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer said the change represented a “pre-emptive strike” before an upcoming Supreme Court ruling that could uphold parts of the state’s tough immigration enforcement law. She also said the new policy would muddy the waters for Arizona’s enforcement efforts.
Information from the Associated Press is included in this article.