On Friday Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a policy that will allow young people who were brought to the United States as minors and meet other specific criteria the opportunity to no longer be at risk for deportation. They will also be eligible to work in the United States.
Undocumented immigrants who entered the United States under the age of 16; are currently in school or have graduated from high school, or are currently in or have served in the military; have no criminal record; and are under age 30 will be able to defer their deportations for up to two years (subject to renewal) and apply for work permits. The policy will only affect those already in the United States who have been in the country continuously for the past five years, meaning it could affect up to 800,000 people.
"Our nation's immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner," said Secretary Napolitano. "But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here."
The provisions announced Friday closely resemble those of the DREAM Act, a bill first introduced in Congress in 2001 that has since failed to pass. Advocates of the bill say providing permanent residency to minors brought to the United States (and thus, who largely did not actively choose to immigrate) makes economic sense, while opponents say the bill will only encourage more undocumented immigrants to enter the country. Republican candidate Mitt Romney has said he would veto the bill if it were to arrive at his desk while he was president.
The Obama administration has been particularly tough on undocumented immigrants, deporting a record number of people in his term. This tough stance on undocumented immigrants has alienated some Hispanic voters, the largest constituency affected by deportations, from the president. While Hispanics don't necessarily comprise a uniform voting bloc, immigration is a key issue with the demographic.
The Department of Homeland Security notes that the new provisions do not provide a pathway to citizenship by allowing work permits and conditional deportation stays.
"DHS continues to focus its enforcement resources on the removal of individuals who pose a national security or public safety risk, including immigrants convicted of crimes, violent criminals, felons, and repeat immigration law offenders. Today's action further enhances the Department's ability to focus on these priority removals," the department said in a statement.
While the announcement is likely to encourage Hispanics that the president is serious about immigration reform, conservatives argue the measure attempts to sidestep Congress on the immigration issue.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a Republican of Iowa, said it was "an affront to the process of representative government by circumventing Congress and with a directive he may not have the authority to execute."
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, a vocal proponent of the state's controversial immigration law, said on CNN on Friday that the move amounted to a "first step towards amnesty."
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