The Huffington Post
June 15, 2012
Administration To Stop Deporting Younger Immigrants
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration responded to years of
pressure from immigrants rights groups on Friday with an announcement
that it will stop deportations and begin granting work permits
for some Dream Act-eligible students.
"They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans
in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one:
on paper," President Barack Obama said of those young people
in a press conference announcing the policy change.
Some 800,000 people are expected to come forward to receive
deferred action from deportation, as first reported by the Associated
Press on Friday morning. The policy change will apply to young
undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children,
along the same lines as the Dream Act, a decade-old bill that
passed in the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told
reporters that the policy change is part of a general shift
by the Obama administration to focus on deporting high-priority
"This grant of deferred action is not immunity," she
said. "It is not amnesty. It is an exercise of discretion
so that these young people are not in the removal system. It
will help us to continue to streamline immigration enforcement
and ensure that resources are not spent pursuing the removal
of low-priority cases involving productive young people."
"More important, I believe this action is the right thing
to do," she continued.
The policy change will effectively enable Dream Act-eligible
young people, often called DREAMers, to stay in the United States
without fear of deportation, and without legislation from a
Congress that is unlikely to pass a bill.
Undocumented immigrants who came to the United States under
the age of 16 and have lived in the country for at least five
years can apply for the relief, so long as they are under the
age of 30, according to a memo from DHS. They also must be either
an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or armed
forces, or a student who has graduated from high school or obtained
a GED. Immigrants will not be eligible if they "pose a
threat to national security or public safety," including
having been convicted of a felony, a "significant"
misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as Customs and
Border Protection, were instructed in a memo to immediately
react by reviewing individual cases and preventing eligible
immigrants from being put in removal proceedings. Those already
in proceedings could be granted deferred action for two years,
and then may apply for renewal. They will be given work authorization
on a case-by-case basis.
A senior administration official told reporters on the condition
of anonymity that most eligible undocumented immigrants will
be required to go to the United States Citizenship and Immigration
Services to provide documents and pay a fee.
Still, there will be no pathway to citizenship for undocumented
immigrants eligible for the policy change, because "Only
the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can
confer these rights," according to the DHS announcement.
The administration has been under intense pressure from immigrant
rights groups, some led by undocumented youth themselves, to
make an executive order protecting DREAMers from deportation.
Previously, though, officials had said the administration did
not have the power to make an executive order blocking deportations
for undocumented young people.
Asked about that change, a different senior administration official,
speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that this
is "the next step of prosecutorial discretion" along
the same lines as it is already being applied, and not inconsistent
with past statements.
The administration also emphasized that the policy change is
no substitute for legislation on the issue. Obama called out
Republicans -- some, like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), by name,
and others, like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), more vaguely --
for supporting immigration reform in the past but opposing it
now. Hatch was one of the original cosponsors of the Dream Act
in 2001, but voted against it in 2010. In time, Obama said he
thinks Republicans will come around to support the bill as well.
"I've said time and time and time again to Congress, send
me the Dream Act, put it on my desk, and I will sign it right
away," Obama said. "Both parties wrote this legislation."
McCain responded in a statement, calling the action "a
politically-motivated power grab that does nothing to further
the debate but instead adds additional confusion and uncertainty
to our broken immigration system."
The announcement comes several months before the presidential
election, where Obama hopes to win a significant portion of
the vote from the Latino population, which supports the Dream
Act by large margins. The majority of the population at large
also supports the Dream Act, as defined by the 2010 bill, although
by lower margins. The announcement also comes on the heels of
Obama announcing his support for same-sex marriage -- similarly
after years of urging from advocacy groups.
Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has
said he would veto the Dream Act under the 2010 framework, but
has expressed some openness to considering upcoming legislation
on young undocumented immigrants from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
That plan, which has yet to be introduced, would allow some
undocumented immigrants who came as children to stay legally,
but without any path to citizenship. A spokesman for Rubio did
not respond to a request for comment on the administration announcement
by the time of publication, nor did the Romney campaign.
A senior adviser for Romney told MSNBC's Chris Cilliza later
Friday that the candidate will "focus intently on the economy,"
including in his message to Latino voters.
Rubio later said in a statement that the administration's action
would hurt "broad support" for the idea that undocumented
young people should be helped, but without encouraging unauthorized
immigration. He said the new policy "will make [it] harder
to achieve in the long run."
"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," Rubio said. "And 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."
Romney aligned himself with that position later in the day,
telling reporters "the action that the president took today
makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution."
Romney promised to seek that solution as president, but he did
not address whether he would end Obama's policy change.
Republicans in Congress have largely decried legislation on
the issue as amnesty. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) said on Fox News
Friday that the policy change could be "a backdoor opportunity
to allow people to vote" -- though eligible young people
would not be given voting rights under the new policy -- and
that it should go through the legislative process instead.
Some Republicans plan to swiftly investigate whether the administration
overstepped its authority by making the policy change. Rep.
Peter King (R-N.Y.) announced in a statement that he will launch
"an immediate review into the possibility that DHS will
direct Border Patrol agents to conduct selective enforcement."
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) later told Mike Huckabee that he plans
to sue to block implementation of the policy. Earlier, a spokeswoman
for King, one of the biggest critics of the president on immigration
reform, did not respond to requests for comment.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who chairs the House Judiciary committee,
which focuses on immigration, said in a statement that the policy
change will serve as a magnet for undocumented immigrants --
although only those already in the country would be eligible.
"President Obama's decision to grant amnesty to potentially
millions of illegal immigrants is a breach of faith with the
American people," Smith said. "It also blatantly ignores
the rule of law that is the foundation of our democracy. This
huge policy shift has horrible consequences for unemployed Americans
looking for jobs and violates President Obama's oath to uphold
the laws of this land."
A spokesperson for Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), who leads the
House subcommittee dealing with immigration issues, did not
respond to requests for comment.
Democratic supporters of the Dream Act applauded the decision.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the most vocal critics
of the administration on immigration, called the announcement
a "tremendous first step," while Sen. Robert Menendez
(D-N.J.) said he was "profoundly grateful" and that
the policy change "will change [DREAMers'] lives forever."
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who introduced the Dream Act in 2001,
called it a "historic humanitarian moment."
"This action will give these young immigrants their chance
to come out of the shadows and be part of the only country they've
ever called home," Durbin said in a statement.
DREAMers said on Friday they were cautiously optimistic about
the news, but happy that the administration responded to their
Lizbeth Mateo, an undocumented 27-year-old who works with the
National Immigrant Youth Alliance, said she has been disappointed
before by seemingly positive announcements from the administration
on immigration, such as when it took up stronger application
of prosecutorial discretion, with the stated intent to close
a number of deportation cases. Although many cases have been
closed, immigrant rights groups argue that the policy has fallen
Another undocumented advocate for the Dream Act, Gaby Pacheco,
said she, too, is waiting to see how far the policy goes in
"We feel that the work that we have been doing for the
past couple of years has really come to fruition," she
said. "A community has been able to organize and to speak
out, and the president has responded."