Finally a bit of good news for the young and undocumented people of America! President Obama has officially made a policy change that provides relief for certain individuals from being deported or from entering into removal proceedings. Those who meet the criteria will be eligible to apply for deferred action for a period of two years (subject to renewal) and will be eligible to apply for work authorization. Yet this new policy is not really a radical break from the status quo, it is instead merely and extension of what Obama has been aiming at for an entire year now; that is, using his executive powers to try to discourage the deportation of certain undocumented immigrants. This new policy is an extension and expansion of the directive that was instituted under the doctrine of prosecutorial discretion, which has to-date, stopped the deportation of nearly 300,000 people and indefinitely removed about 20,000 of them from removal proceedings.
The difference is that this announcement now gives additional protection and opportunities for individuals who were brought to this country by their parents when they were children and are now looking to attain higher degrees of education and use their professional degrees to contribute to our work force and society. Those who qualify under the requirements are the poster children for the DREAM Act and will have their deportation cases deferred for two years. This policy is significantly weaker than the DREAM Act, however, given that these individuals will not be on a fast track to attain legal status, in fact, they will be on no such track at all given that the new Obama policy does not include any provision that confers permanent legal residency status. One major benefit that is a part of this new policy is that it allows those whose deportation cases have been deferred to be able to apply for work authorization. While there is no official path to citizenship, this new policy can indirectly help illegal immigrants in their case for a green card, says the director of the Immigration Policy Center, Mary Giovagnoli. “Deferred action is a temporary status that gives you the chance to work, go to school, etc. So in some cases, it might allow you to acquire the skills that might qualify you for an employment green card or might buy you the time until another category you are waiting for becomes available,” she explained.
The Department of Homeland Security is reiterating their commitment to focus its enforcement resources on the deportation of only those who pose a national security or public safety risk, including those who have been convicted of crimes, violent criminals and felons, and repeat immigration law offenders. “Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” said DHS Secretary Jane 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.”
To qualify under this new directive, one must have arrived in the U.S. under the age of sixteen; have continuously resided in the country for at least five years as of June 15th 2012; must currently be in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or be honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Coast Guard or Armed Forces; have not been convicted of a felony offense, certain misdemeanors, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety; and must not be above the age of thirty. Requests for deferred action will be decided on a case-by-case basis and only those who can prove through verifiable documentation that they meet these criteria will qualify. For those individuals who are already in removal proceedings but have been identified as meeting the eligibility criteria, ICE will immediately begin to offer them deferred action as stipulated by this new directive. Furthermore, one of the most encouraging aspects of Obama’s new policy is that it is to take effect immediately, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) expected to begin implementing the application processes within sixty days.
In the last couple of months, Obama has used executive orders more frequently in order to help carry forth initiatives that he—like so many others—believes in but that have been stymied by the deep partisan divide in Congress. Unfortunately, not everyone can see and acknowledge the benefits of this common-sense policy. Florida’s own U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who has been working on an alternative version of the DREAM Act, came out to criticize Obama. Although on some level this is not surprising given that we have seen Rubio wear his Party’s—and as of late, the Tea Party’s—badge front and center, rarely straying away from the Republican base, it is ironic that he would not support this new executive directive given that it is not all that different from his proposed bill on immigration that also prominently excludes a path to permanent citizenship. Sen. Rubio is considered a possible running mate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney who has publicly sided with Rubio in saying that Obama’s new policy allegedly “makes finding a long-term solution more difficult.” On the other side of the immigration divide, people hailed the administration’s new move. “In light of the congressional inaction on immigration reform, this is the right step for the administration to take at this time,” said a spokesperson for a major Hispanic and Latino group, the National Council of La Raza.
Immigration lawyers have also praised the policy calling it a leap in the right direction at last. However, some are concerned that the new policy does not guarantee that it will be used uniformly and that it may be implemented more stingily than the administration—and the immigrant community—would like. This new move by the administration to partially mend the immigration policies is primarily intended to make them more equitable and just specifically for the rather large group of young people that have come to be known as “the DREAMERS”. Those young individuals who, having grown up in this country and lived here all of their lives, are Americans in every single way except for the fact that they are undocumented. At last, they will now have a chance to partake in our society and become legal participants in our work force without the fear of being forced to abruptly leave this country. While it is still imperative for comprehensive immigration reform to be passed, this major improvement made to lift the shadow of deportation for these young individuals is indeed a major step in the right direction for sensible immigration policy, and will surely be considered as a major game-changer in the politics of the upcoming presidential elections.