President Barack Obama effectively circumvented Congress on illegal immigration when he announced on June 15 that the administration would selectively abstain from deporting certain alien residents living in the U.S. Effective immediately, the federal government will cease efforts to deport up to 1.4 million children and young adults who are in the United States illegally. According to the Pew Research Center, the 1.4 million estimate includes 700,000 unauthorized immigrants who are ages 18 to 30 who arrived in the U.S as minors and are currently enrolled in school or have graduated high school. An additional 700,000 who are under the age of 18 and are enrolled in school would also be included, including 150,000 who are currently enrolled in high school.
The move does an end-run around Congress by putting into effect some of the goals of the Development, Relief and Education Act for Alien Minors (DREAM). This bill, which has had bipartisan support but failed to pass the Senate’s scrutiny in 2010, includes means for young people to obtain citizenship even though they who came to the United States illegaly as children but have attended college or served in the military.
In announcing his policy change, which has widely been reported as an Executive Order but is actually a directive of the Department of Homeland Security, Obama said “Secretary Napolitano announced new actions my administration will take to mend our nation’s immigration policy, to make it more fair, more efficient and more just, specifically for certain young people sometimes called dreamers.” Even so, Obama said that this was but a temporary measure. The next president of the United States would be able to rescind the policy change. “This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship,” Obama said. “It's not a permanent fix.”
Pulling at heart strings, Obama said of the young illegal immigrants, “Now, these are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” Saying that they been brought to the U.S. by their parents and unwitting of their undocumented status, Obama told his listeners “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.”
Under Obama’s fiat, those immigrants who arrived illegally before the age of 16 and are now under the age of 30 will be allowed to apply for work permits as long as they have no criminal history and meet other criteria. Those meeting the criteria will be will be eligible to apply for deferred action on deportation for a period of two years, and that status will be renewable. They will also be allowed to get work permits. They will have to fulfill various requirements to be eligible to apply. They must have come to the U.S. before they turned 16 years of age and must have resided in the U.S. continuously for at least five years. They must be present in the U.S. now, be enrolled in school, and hold a high school diploma or GED or serve in the U.S. military. Veterans who have been discharged honorably also will be eligible. Those disqualified include: felons, perpetrators of violent crimes, and repeat immigration offenders. Also ineligible would be those convicted of a significant misdemeanor offense or more than one misdemeanor, or those who for some other reason pose a security or safety threat.
President Obama, who spoke to reporters assembled at the White House Rose Garden said the changes would make the immigration system "more efficient, more fair and more just." The policy change also comes just a week before he will speak to members of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ (NALEO) at their conference in the key state of Florida.
This political move by Obama addresses a top concern for Latino political leadership, many of whom have been vocally opposed to the Obama administration’s burgeoning deportations heretofore. Even while Obama still has a majority of Latino voters in his corner, some of their enthusiasm has been dampened by the nation’s slow economic growth, in addition to his impotence as to winning congressional support for an overhaul of immigration laws. Activists mounted a hunger strike at his Denver campaign office to demonstrate their opposition to the slew of deportations under his administrations. More protests are expected June 16-17.