Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced today that young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and are deemed “low enforcement priorities” may be able to avoid deportation and become eligible for work authorization, effective immediately.
The policy is expected to impact several hundred thousand undocumented residents facing possible deportation.
“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” Secretary Janet Napolitano said in the Dept. of Homeland Security press release. “But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case.”
In order to be eligible for the deferred action program, individuals must have been brought to the country before the age of 16 and have no criminal history. They must have resided in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years and be a student or have already graduated from high school or earned an equivalent GED, or served in the military. The deportation exemption does not extend to undocumented immigrants over the age of 30. Eligibility also hinges on the individual currently residing in the United States.
On Friday afternoon in the Rose House Garden, President Barack Obama urged Americans to consider how these young people facing expulsion must feel. “Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life. Studied hard, worked hard,” he said. “Only to suddenly face threat of deportation to a country you may nothing about.”
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the Republican party’s influential voices on immigration reform, issued a tersely-worded statement responding to the president’s announcement. “Today’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short term answer to a long term problem,” he said. “By once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long term one.”
Obama acknowledged that the policy is a stop-gap measure and said it was his administration’s best response to congressional inaction. He called on Congress once again to send him a policy like the DREAM Act, the failed bill which aimed to provide a path to citizenship for immigrants brought into the country as young children.
“This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship,” he said. “This is not a permanent fix.”
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a long-time proponent of federal immigration reform, praised the administration for its action toward making “a significant portion of the DREAM Act a reality.”
“Ending deportations of innocent young people who have the potential to drive tomorrow’s economy is long overdue, as are many common-sense reforms needed to center our immigration policy around our economic needs,” Bloomberg said in a statement to the press. “We have a system that is choking our economic growth by chasing away the entrepreneurs who can create jobs and the talented people businesses need to succeed and grow.”
The president’s move was dismissed by critics as a political ploy to appeal to Latino voters, who have nevertheless been reluctant to support his opponent. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has tried to connect with the Latino community in earnest in recent weeks, but has done so while actively avoiding any talk of immigration.
A June 8 poll by political opinion research team Latino Decisions found that Latino voters prefer President Obama over Mitt Romney by a 43-point margin. The survey found that nearly 66 percent of Latino registered voters were certain or leaning toward Obama, while only 23 percent were indicated their support for Romney.
President Obama, who repeated several times that saving young immigrants from deportation is simply “the right thing to do,” said the U.S. must live up to its ethos as a “nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.”
“It makes no sense to expel talented young people who for all intents and purposes are Americans,” he said. “To expel these people simply because of the actions of their parents or because of the inaction of politicians.”