A Department of Homeland Security directive announced today brings changes to the nation's immigration policy and will reduce the number of deportations of undocumented youth. The policy, effective immediately, bypasses congressional authority. Obama made the formal announcement shortly after 2 PM ET.
The announcement comes during a week when immigration activists have occupied four Obama campaign offices to urge passage of the DREAM Act.
The Associated Press reports that the move will affect 800,000 immigrants under the age of 30 who were brought to the U.S. before they were 16 who had up to this point been in danger of deportation.
“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement. “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.”
Center for American Progress Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy Angela Maria Kelley stated that today's decision marked "a turning point" and added, "Today’s announcement by the White House that it will offer protection to undocumented youth who meet the DREAM Act requirements demonstrates extraordinary leadership and smart decision-making. The president is acting well within his authority and the secretary of homeland security is building on the agency’s enforcement strategy and wisely deploying its resources. In the absence of congressional action, the other branches of government need to step in and right the wrongs of our current broken immigration system."
Frank Jannuzi, the head of Amnesty International’s Washington office, offered a tepid welcome of the news, emphasizing that the directive only offers temporary help. "Amnesty International welcomes President Obama’s steps to relieve the plight of undocumented children and their uncertain futures, but it is a temporary measure. Immigrant children and their families, and the country as a whole, deserve a permanent solution, not tomorrow or after the election, but right now."
Both Amnesty International and the ACLU underscore the need for a path to citizenship, which is not provided in today's changes, and urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act. “The administration cannot provide these youth with a path to U.S. citizenship,” said Joanne Lin, ACLU legislative counsel. “The ACLU calls upon all members of Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who came to the United States as children and graduated from high school."
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Department of Homeland Security: Secretary Napolitano Announces Deferred Action Process for Young People Who Are Low Enforcement Priorities
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano today announced that effective immediately, certain young people who were brought to the United States as young children, do not present a risk to national security or public safety, and meet several key criteria will be considered for relief from removal from the country or from entering into removal proceedings. Those who demonstrate that they meet the criteria will be eligible to receive deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and will be eligible to apply for work authorization. [...]
Under this directive, individuals who demonstrate that they meet the following criteria will be eligible for an exercise of discretion, specifically deferred action, on a case by case basis:
- Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
- Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;
- Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
- Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;
- Are not above the age of thirty.
Only those individuals who can prove through verifiable documentation that they meet these criteria will be eligible for deferred action. Individuals will not be eligible if they are not currently in the United States and cannot prove that they have been physically present in the United States for a period of not less than 5 years immediately preceding today’s date. Deferred action requests are decided on a case-by-case basis. DHS cannot provide any assurance that all such requests will be granted. The use of prosecutorial discretion confers no substantive right, immigration status, or pathway to citizenship. Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights.
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Undocumented activists have occupied four Obama campaign offices around the country in support of the DREAM Act, which would grant children of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. Since Wednesday, the activists have staged sit-ins at Obama for America offices in Oakland, Los Angeles Cincinnati and Detroit. Obama has voiced support for the DREAM Act, but the activists are urging him to issue an executive order stopping the deportation of undocumented immigrants. The joint actions come days after two undocumented students occupied Obama’s Denver campaign office and staged a hunger strike. Organizers say similar protests will continue until the November elections.
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Michelle Chen writing in Culture/Strike:
Will Obama grant the DREAM in fragments?
Now for a reality check: the struggle isn’t over, the DREAM Act is still all but moribund, administrative action has previously proven ineffective in providing real relief to immigrants in crisis, and uncertainty will continue to dampen the aspirations of millions of immigrants seeking dignity and justice. The Obama administration is still set to deport around 400,000 people this year, and as anti-immigrant hostility boils over in state houses, Washington seems to have little appetite for addressing the immigration question in a comprehensive way during this election season. Nonetheless, the election season has also raised the stakes for the White House on immigration issues as it pivots for Latino voters.
Additionally, the pragmatic ramifications of temporary immigration relief for undocumented youth are hard to ignore. Think Progress notes that the 2010 DREAM Act (legislation that was consistently blocked in Congress–and would have been a broader measure than today’s administrative policy change) was estimated to “increase federal revenues by $1.7 billion. It would have also generated massive income by allowing undocumented students to remain in the U.S. and work, particularly in high-skilled fields like engineering.
But let’s pull back a bit from the policy debate and recognize that this is about the human rights of individuals and communities who want nothing more than the respect and recognition they deserve as students, neighbors, family members and workers. To that end, Obama’s action can be read as a sign that when it’s deployed with creativity and uncompromising determination, people power can actually shake up the political status quo.