(CNN) — Jose Luis Zelaya shed tears of joy Friday morning. “It’s just insane,” the graduate student at Texas A&M University said. “I’ve been working on this for six years. It is just overwhelming.”
Zelaya was electrified by news that the Obama administration would stop deporting illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children if they met certain requirements.
Zelaya came to the United States illegally from Honduras at age 14 to find his mother, who was already in the country, he said.
Without the change announced Friday,he couldn’t get a job to help pay for school – Zelaya, 25, is pursuing a master’s degree in education with hopes of earning a doctorate and teaching middle school. He also couldn’t consider the job offers that presented themselves. The uncertainty over what loomed after graduation spooked him.
“Now maybe I will be able to work without being afraid that someone may deport me,” he said. “There is no fear anymore.”
News of the change raced around the country, buoying the spirits of immigrants and immigrant advocates who have campaigned for such a change for more than 10 years.
“I’m definitely speechless,” said Pedro Ramirez, a recent graduate of Fresno State University who was student body president when he admitted he was in the country illegally.
“It gives us a chance to show the American people that we’re not here to use your tax dollars, we’re not here to take your jobs, we’re here to contribute.”
Not everyone viewed the change with such enthusiasm.
“This is a classic Barack Obama move of choosing politics over leadership,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said on Twitter. “This decision avoids dealing with Congress and the American people instead of fixing a broken immigration system once and for all.”
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said the decision would invite fraud and hurt unemployed Americans.
“President Obama’s decision to grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants is a breach of faith with the American people,” said Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Under the new directives, those who were brought into the country illegally before the age of 16 and are not criminals, among other requirements, are eligible to receive deferred action for two years, and will be eligible to apply for work authorization.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Ramirez said, though he characterized it as a “band-aid deal.”
“It’s not the solution, it’s a temporary fix. But it implements part of the key focal points of the DREAM Act.”
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — or DREAM — Act, would create a path to citizenship for immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children under the age of 16 and have lived in the United States for at least five years, obtained a high school or General Education Development diploma, and demonstrated “good moral character,” the White House said.
Efforts to pass the DREAM Act in Congress have failed.
Laura Vazquez, spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza said the Obama Administration is within its authority to enforce the change.
“This is a legitimate use of the tools that the administration has to focus on their immigration enforcement resources,” she said. “In light of the congressional inaction on immigration reform, this is the right step for the administration to take at this time.”
CNN’s Nick Valencia contributed to this story