Obama announces new policy to cease deportation of children of undocumented immigrants


Children of undocumented immigrants – also known as “Dreamers” – who are in school, attending college, or have honorably served in the military will be exempt from deportation and be allowed to apply for temporary work authorization under a new policy announced by President Barack Obama on Friday. 

President Barack Obama announcing his executive order to cease deportation of children of illegal immigrants on June 15, 2012. SOURCE: White House photo by Sonya N. Hebert.

“In the absence of any immigration action from Congress to fix our broken immigration system, what we’ve tried to do is focus our immigration enforcement resources in the right places,” said Obama. “Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.”

What the new immigration directive entails

The new directive is aimed at helping undocumented immigrants who were children when they were brought to United States illegally by their parents.

Many of those children, who spent most of their lives in the United States, did not learn about their undocumented status until they applied for a college scholarship, a job, or a driver’s license. Some of them face deportation even after they have served and have been honorably discharged from the U.S. Coast Guards, Marines, Navy, Army, or Air Force.

“Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life — studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class — only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak,” said Obama.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that as many as 1.4 million undocumented children and young adults could benefit from Obama’s directive.

Under the administration’s new policy – effective immediately – undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 who qualify will be allowed to apply for temporary “deferred action” and work authorization subject to renewal in two years.

To qualify, each individual must prove, with documentation, that he or she:

1) came to the United States under the age of 16;

2) has continuously lived in the United States for at least 5 years before the new policy was issued on June 15, 2012;

3) was present in the United States on June 15, 2012;

4) is not over the age of 30;

5) has’t been convicted of a felony, a “significant” misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors, and doesn’t pose a threat to national security or public safety;

6) and is currently enrolled in school, has graduated high school, has obtained a GED [General Education Development] certificate, or was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the U.S.

Individuals who wish to receive more information or apply for the “deferred action” and temporary work authorization may visit the Department of Homeland Security’s website at DHS.gov (click here for Spanish version) or call the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services [USCIS] hotline at 1-800-375-5283 or Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] hotline at 1-888-351-4024 during business hours. Although the new policy took effect on June 15, it may take USCIS and ICE up to 60 days to implement the “deferred action” applications.

Each request for “deferred action” will be decided on a “case-by-case basis,” according to the Department of Homeland Security. In addition, individuals who meet those criteria but who are in the process of being deported will be allowed to apply for “deferred action” with ICE.

However, the DHS stressed that the administration’s directive allows for only “prosecutorial discretion” and “confers no substantive right, immigration status, or pathway to citizenship”, all of which can only be granted though acts of Congress.

“Let’s be clear — this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix,” said Obama. “This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people. It is the right thing to do.”

Background on DREAM Act & Obama’s arguments for the directive

The President’s announcement came a year and a half after the DREAM Act was again blocked from passage by Senate Republicans.

The “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act”, crafted with bipartisan support, would have allowed children of undocumented immigrants who don’t have a criminal record to apply for temporary residency in the United States to attend college or serve in the U.S. military. Those who do obtain a college degree, serve in the armed forces, or were honorably discharged may be eligible to apply for permanent residency and not face deportation. Critics claimed that the bill would grant “amnesty” to illegal aliens.

The DREAM Act was supported by the Department of Defense under the Bush administration and was passed by the House of Representatives with a 216 to 198 vote. The bill fell five votes short of overcoming a filibuster in the Senate in December of 2010.

In his remarks, Obama argued that his policy would make immigration enforcement smarter and fairer from both public safety and economic perspectives.

“It’s the right thing to do for our economy — and CEOs agree with me — not just because it’s the right thing to do for our security, but because it’s the right thing to do, period,” said Obama. “These young people are going to make extraordinary contributions, and are already making contributions to our society. I’ve got a young person who is serving in our military, protecting us and our freedom. The notion that in some ways we would treat them as expendable makes no sense.”

Obama added, “If there is a young person here who has grown up here and wants to contribute to this society, wants to maybe start a business that will create jobs for other folks who are looking for work, that’s the right thing to do. Giving certainty to our farmers and our ranchers; making sure that in addition to border security, we’re creating a comprehensive framework for legal immigration — these are all the right things to do.”

Reactions & political fallout 

The administration’s new policy was widely praised by immigrant advocates.

“This is smart government in action. We applaud the Obama administration for taking steps to allow undocumented young people, American in every way except immigration status, to remain in our country,” said Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum.

However, Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director of Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center, pointed out that the President’ policy “does not fully repair our country’s dysfunctional immigration system” and called on Congress to pass a “pass fair immigration reform that creates a humane system for all.”

Obama’s announcement also pre-empted the Republican’s immigration reform package being put together by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is considered a top contender for the GOP’s vice president spot. Rubio was forced abandon his own “Dream Act” after President announced his new policy.

“People are going to say to me, ‘Why are we going to need to do anything on this now. It has been dealt with. We can wait until after the election,’” Rubio said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “And it is going to be hard to argue against that.”

The President’s centrist stance on immigration reform left little room for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to attack. Not wishing to alienate the estimated 21.7 million eligible Latino voters, many who reside in key swing states, Romney merely criticized Obama for not coming up with a long-term solution on immigration reform.

“I think the action that the President took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution because an executive order is, of course, just a short-term matter and can be reversed by subsequent Presidents,” said Romney.


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