In a policy decision with significant implications to the ongoing debate about immigration reform and election year dynamics, the Obama administration has announced that if young immigrations who came into the U.S. as kids meet certain requirements they will no longer be deported. The action will accomplish some key goals of the DREAM Act.
Obama’s Congressional foes are denouncing it as “amnesty.” See UPDATES below.
The Obama administration announced on Friday that it would no longer seek the deportation of most young illegal immigrants, and would instead allow them to apply for work permits, a significant policy shift with potentially major electoral implications.
The Department of Homeland Security said that, effective immediately, the government would no longer seek the deportation of illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, and would allow them to apply for work permits if they meet certain criteria.
“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet 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.”
As the MSNBC report notes, this essentially puts in place many goals of the Dream Act:
The shift essentially accomplishes many of the legislative intentions of the DREAM Act, an immigration reform bill that had stalled in Congress due to Republican objections. President Barack Obama favors the legislation, while presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said he would veto that law.
The new rule comes amid a bruising election year fight between Obama and Romney, in which the Latino vote could be decisive. Obama enjoys a strong advantage with Latino voters, winning 61 percent of Latinos to 27 percent for Romney in a mid-May NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll.
UPDATE: A quick thought. There is a notable points about this in political terms. In many of my posts here I’ve recently noted that Barack Obama is not following any of the formula that Samuel L. Popkin lays out in his great new book "The Candidate: What It Takes to Win — and Hold — the White House.
With this move he goes closer the part of the formula. Here’s just a tiny part of it — something that did not apply to Obama (who is way off course in several aspects of Popkin’s historical list of what it takes for incumbents to hold onto the White House).
To this day, incumbents from both parties invoke Harry S. Truman when they are far behind int he polls, promising to give their opponents as much hell as Truman did during his stunning, unexpected 1948 comeback. But while people remember his pithy and fiery stump speeches, his sophisticated Washington strategy played a far bigger role in defeating New York’s governor Thomas Dewey.
The real hell Truman gave Dewey was in Washington where he accomplished the legislative equivalent of Nixon visiting China……by exploiting two splits within the Republican party to isolate and disarm Dewey.
In this section he argues that Truman quickly redefined and repositioned himself and, essentially changed the dynamics of the race. Will that happen here?
Mr. Obama planned to discuss the new policy Friday afternoon from the White House Rose Garden.
Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed. The officials who described the plan spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it in advance of the official announcement.
The extraordinary move comes in an election year in which the Hispanic vote could be critical in swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida. While Mr. Obama enjoys support from a majority of Hispanic voters, Latino enthusiasm for the president has been tempered by the slow economic recovery, his inability to win congressional support for a broad overhaul of immigration laws and by his administration’s aggressive deportation policy. Activists opposing his deportation policies last week mounted a hunger strike at an Obama campaign office in Denver, and other protests were planned for this weekend.
The change is likely to cause an outcry from congressional Republicans, who are sure to perceive Mr. Obama’s actions as an end run around them. Republicans already have complained that previous administration uses of prosecutorial discretion in deportations amount to back-door amnesty. Romney and many Republican lawmakers want tighter border security measures before considering changes in immigration law. Romney opposes offering legal status to illegal immigrants who attend college but has said he would do so for those who serve in the armed forces.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month found Mr. Obama leading Romney among Hispanic voters 61 percent to 27 percent. But his administration’s deportation policies have come under fire, and Latino leaders have raised the subject in private meetings with the president. In 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported a record 396,906 people and is expected to deport about 400,000 this year.
A December poll by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that 59 percent of Latinos disapproved of the president’s handling of deportations.
The Obama administration is likely to deny that politics played a role in the announcement, but the timing is ideal for the president’s re-election campaign. In the GOP primary, Mitt Romney adopted strictly conservative positions against illegal immigration in his effort to woo right-wing voters. He backs a strong fence along the border with Mexico, opposes most amnesty and boasts of his move as Massachusetts governor to deny in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.
Democrats have said they plan to hold Romney to those positions, painting him as a candidate with extreme views on immigration. Romney’s campaign stumbled last month when the Republican National Committee’s director of Hispanic outreach told reporters that Romney was “still deciding what his position on immigration is,” fueling the notion that he holds few true convictions.
Obama’s announcement today is likely to curry favor with Hispanics, a key growing voting bloc that could determine the winner in November in important states like Florida, Colorado and Nevada. The president beats Romney among Hispanics in polls, but most Latinos say they disapprove of Obama’s deportation policy. Obama also plans to speak to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Florida next week, as will Romney.
Under the new rules, up to 800,000 immigrants will be affected. Deportation will no longer apply to immigrants who came into the country before they were 16 and are now younger than 30, have lived here for five straight years, have never been convicted of a crime, graduated from high school or got a GED, or have been in the military.
Such immigrants will be allowed to apply for a two-year work permit that can be renewed unlimited times.
One thing that seems like an important political implication of this is that this is basically what Marco Rubio had wanted to do with his Republican half-DREAM Act. Romney had indicated he might support that proposal, which would have been a flip-flop and caused problems for him with his base. Now that Obama has used his executive authority to accomplish the same thing (a) it will be impossible for Republicans to try to claim a half-DREAM Act is a suitable replacement for a real DREAM Act with a path to citizenship and (b) it will probably be impossible for Romney to endorse Rubio’s plan, now that Obama has moved forward with it.
King Barack Hussein Kardashian Obama thinks that he gets to invent laws where they don’t exists and disregard the ones that are already on the books.
In yet another demonstration of contempt for the rule of law and the separation of powers, the Obama administration has announced that it will no longer enforce our immigration laws (not that he’s been enforcing them until now). The Washington Times broke the story this morning about a secret memo from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that establishes new policies advising agents to release some illegals caught crossing the border. The new policy will encourage agents to suspend deportation proceedings and grant amnesty to those who ostensibly fit the criteria of the Dream Act – a bill that was defeated with overwhelming bipartisan support of Congress. Hence, the administration is publicly declaring that federal agents will ensure our laws are not executed faithfully.
…..This administration is setting a dangerous precedent.
Congress must reassert its constitutional authority over immigration law. They should hold public hearings and shed some light on the darkest corners of this administrative power grab. Moreover, they must refuse funding for any program that grants administrative amnesty.
Obama is clearly trying to preempt the humiliation that he will suffer when the Supreme Court slaps down his lawsuit against Arizona next week.
This is not the time for Republicans to reward Obama for violating the law with their own version of amnesty. This is the time for them to stand and fight an extreme president who is beneath contempt. Even those who subscribe to a different view on immigration must be alarmed by this president’s usurpation of power.
WASHINGTON— 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.
“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.”
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.
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.
While this guidance takes effect immediately, USCIS and ICE expect to begin implementation of the application processes within sixty days. In the meantime, individuals seeking more information on the new policy should visit USCIS’s website (at www.uscis.gov), ICE’s website (at www.ice.gov), or DHS’s website (at www.dhs.gov). Beginning Monday, individuals can also call USCIS’ hotline at 1-800-375-5283 or ICE’s hotline at 1-888-351-4024 during business hours with questions or to request more information on the forthcoming process.
For individuals who are in removal proceedings and have already been identified as meeting the eligibility criteria and have been offered an exercise of discretion as part of ICE’s ongoing case-by-case review, ICE will immediately begin to offer them deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal.
For more information on the Administration policy reforms to date, please see this fact sheet.
The decision coincides with election year politics, including an increased focus on hispanic voters.
Much of the language falls in line with the Republican version of DREAM Act proposed by Florida Senator and rumored Vice Presidential contender Marco Rubio.
The DREAM Act, championed by Democrats, essentially provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children if they attend college or join the military for two years. Rubio’s alternative proposal grants nonimmigration visas, but does not provide citizenship.
In a conference call, Napolitano emphasized that the new policies are similarly not aimed at granting citizenship.
The announcement, coming five months before the presidential election at a time when President Obama has been under increased pressure from Hispanic groups for his administration’s record on deportations, was immediately denounced as “amnesty” by congressional opponents.
Obama gave a hint of what was to come Thursday during a campaign speech on the economy in Cleveland.
“If we truly want to make this country a destination for talent and ingenuity from all over the world, we won’t deport hardworking, responsible young immigrants who have grown up here or received advanced degrees here,” he said. “We’ll let them earn the chance to become American citizens, so they can grow our economy and start new businesses right here instead of someplace else.”
….Opponents in Congress called it amnesty.
“President Obama’s decision to grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants is a breach of faith with the American people,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas. “It also blatantly ignores the rule of law that is the foundation of our democracy. This huge policy shift has horrible consequences for unemployed Americans looking for jobs and also violates President Obama’s oath to uphold the laws of this land.
“President Obama’s amnesty only benefits illegal immigrants, not Americans, and is a magnet for fraud. Many illegal immigrants will falsely claim they came here as children, and the federal government has no way to check whether their claims are true. And once these illegal immigrants are granted deferred action, they can then apply for a work permit, which the administration routinely grants 90% of the time.
“How can the administration justify allowing illegal immigrants to work in the U.S. when millions of Americans are unemployed? President Obama and his administration once again have put partisan politics and illegal immigrants ahead of the rule of law and the American people. With this track record, it’s looking more likely that even President Obama may lose his job in this economy when Americans go to the polls this November.”
Napolitano disputed the amnesty charge.
“This … is not immunity. This is not amnesty,” she said. “It is an exercise of discretion so that these young people are not placed in removal proceedings. We are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. With respect to these young people, deferred action is simply the right thing to do.”
Supporters in Congress said the policy is just a start toward improving the nation’s immigration laws.
“This could protect 800,000 or more young immigrants with roots here right now, and will be seen in the immigrant and Latino community as a very significant down payment on broader reform,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. “It is a tremendous first step towards addressing the problems caused by our outdated and inflexible immigration.
The clear issue here is whether this announcement will translate to real relief. Latino activists have been burned by the deportation reviews and are probably more interested in verification that this latest proposal is working. ICE has been known to basically ignore memoranda like this.
But it’s clear that election-year pressure has led to some relief in this case. The fact that President Obama will speak before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials next week surely played a role.
If it works, this temporary but significant relief for DREAM students is definitely welcome. I’ll have reactions from some of the leaders in this movement as the day goes on.
…Given the fact that this doesn’t grant any permanent immigration status (and you can’t by executive order, this is about the most that can be done), the announcement most resembles the alternative DREAM Act being organized by Republican Marco Rubio.
…Jose Antonio Vargas, the most recent face of the DREAM Act, the man on the cover of Time Magazine this week, is actually 31, and thus ineligible for the protections under this policy.
Firedog Lake also has this statement from America’s Voice’s Ron Sharry:
This is huge. As a result of today’s decision, hundreds of thousands of young people who are American in all but paperwork will have the opportunity to live freely, work legally, and contribute to the country they love. The President is right to step up and protect these young people, because this expansion of existing policy is the only viable path to meaningful relief for Dreamers this year.
The DREAM Act started over 10 years ago as a bipartisan common sense bill. Over the years, Republicans who supported it in the past, including original co-sponsor Orrin Hatch (R-UT), have become opponents as the Republican Party has lurched to the right. And despite efforts by some in the GOP, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), to reposition the GOP on the issue, House Republicans have made it clear that any version of DREAM would not pass the House this year.
We salute the President and his team for this bold move to make sure our immigration system includes rather than deports young people who have done everything right and nothing wrong, and only want to contribute to the country they call home.
So, the “framing” economic speech yesterday was a bust — yeah, they’re going to need us to move away from that ol’ chestnut pretty quickly — so here comes the next big talking point in the Obama-campaign wheelhouse.
President Obama has decided that the Homeland Security Department will no longer deport younger illegal immigrants who haven’t broken the law, and will instead issue them work permits…
…At least as far as the Latino community is concerned (and opinion abounds on the electoral significance of Latinos as a voting group, and whether they really vote so monolithically), this is going to present a stiff challenge for Romney’s campaign.
Ed Morrissey of Hot Air adds this on her post:
Update (Ed): So …. he’s going to hand out hundreds of thousands of work permits when unemployment is at 8.2% nominal, 14.8% U-6, and the civilian participation rate is near the 30-year low Obama set last month (now 63.8%)? The only thing this accomplishes is driving the labor rate further downward and the unemployment rate further upward. Work permits make sense when you’re creating jobs, but not when jobs are scarce. I’m not sure that’s going to endear Obama to unions and blue-collar voters struggling to find work already.
Putting politics above national security and the rule of law.
Frustrated by its inability to get laws passed through Congress, the Obama administration has decided to stop following laws already passed by Congress and act as if its preferred policies are law…Now, I happen to think our current immigration policy is absurd and think the Obama-Rubio plan preferable. It simply makes no sense to deport adults who have lived in the United States for years, obeyed our laws, and otherwise demonstrated that they are doing the right things. But the president isn’t a benevolent dictator; he’s taken an oath to obey and enforce the law of the land.
And yes, the downside of executive branch action? This program dies screaming the instant Mitt Romney should take office. Might want to keep this in mind.
This is not a perfect plan. One major objection I have is the blanket disqualification for criminal history, irrespective of whether the arrest was for, say, assault vs. getting caught with some weed. When young people of color are disproportionately targeted by “war on drug” policies, there will be a lot of pointless disqualifications for what effectively amounts to rank racism.
I’m also not happy it lacks a roadmap to citizenship.
That said, this policy is an improvement over our current immigration policies. It’s opportunistic politicking, but it’s a step in the right direction all the same.
There is much more yet to do.
Behold the first election-year bombshell: Barack Obama’s White House will announce this morning that it will unilaterally begin granting work permits to as many as 800,000 illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, graduated from high school, and stayed out of trouble with the law. He’s essentially implemented the much-debated DREAM Act, only without the hassle of all that voting in Congress. He should have done this with health care!
…Prepare for a lot of talk of “subverting the democratic process” from Republican legislators. Even ones who have supported the DREAM Act will surely oppose Obama’s bypassing Congress.
After years of getting nowhere with the DREAM Act, President Obama has decided to pass a version of it on his own…Mitt Romney and the rest of the GOP will be furious.
Not just because they oppose “amnesty,” but because Obama just gave himself a huge advantage in the all-important battle for 2012’s Hispanic vote.
The president’s play is clever. By appropriating Rubio’s plan he may blunt some criticism of it. By playing up the plight of illegal aliens brought here as children through no fault of their own and who only know America as their home, he plays on the most sympathetic of illegal aliens.
But the fact remains that Congress has been bypassed by presidential fiat. An additional fact remains that in a time of high unemployment especially among young American citizens, the optics of granting work permits to 800,000 illegal aliens may not be what the president ultimately wants.
More: A word of advice to Romney and the Republicans. Obama has two intentions with this policy. One, shore up support among Hispanic voters on the left dissatisfied by his lack of attention to them (not all Hispanic voters support amnesty or border lawlessness; many Hispanics oppose and/or are victims of these policies). Two, spur heated anti-illegal rhetoric among Republicans, which the Democrats can use to paint Republicans as intolerant, anti-Hispanic, and so forth. Every word that Mitt Romney or any Republican says about this policy is sure to turn up in ads, especially in Spanish media. So keep the rhetoric cool and focused on the president. He is acting outside his authority. He is waging political warfare and using young people as his proxies. He is going to make the difficult jobs situation in America worse by encouraging more illegal immigration.
Obama is hoping to use this policy to set traps for his opponents. Don’t let him.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus reacted to the Obama administration’s immigration announcement today at the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
“Well, he’s made a lot of promises that he hasn’t kept,” Priebus told reporters after his remarks to the conservative confab.
“I think president is all politics, all the time,” he said when asked if he thought the announcement was politically motivated.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican known for calling for tougher immigration laws, immediately denounced the administration’s decision as “amnesty.”
“It also blatantly ignores the rule of law that is the foundation of our democracy,” Smith said in a statement. “This huge policy shift has horrible consequences for unemployed Americans looking for jobs and violates President Obama’s oath to uphold the laws of this land.”
Numbers USA, a leading advocacy group pushing for tougher immigration laws, said the move was “unconstitutional.”
“President Obama thwarted the will of Congress and shunned the 20 million under- and unemployed Americans by announcing he will grant work permits to 2 [million to] 3 million illegal workers.” said group president Roy Beck. “Congress on three occasions rejected Dream Act amnesties in part to help unemployed workers born here or who came here legally.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted: “This decision avoids dealing with Congress and the American people instead of fixing a broken immigration system once and for all.” And again later: “This type of policy proposal, regardless of motivation, will entice people to break our laws.”
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio– whose reaction to the Obama administration’s immigration order will likely be one of the most closely watched of his party– issued a carefully worded statement Friday that called for helping young illegal immigrants but criticized the president’s approach.
“There is broad support for the idea that we should figure out a way to help kids who are undocumented through no fault of their own, but there is also broad consensus that it should be done in a way that does not encourage illegal immigration in the future,” the Florida senator said. “This is a difficult balance to strike, one that this new policy, imposed by executive order, will make harder to achieve in the long run.
“Today’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short-term answer to a long-term problem,” he added. “And by once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short-term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long-term one.”
Obama has supported proposed legislation, known as the Dream Act, that would enact programs to provide a path to citizenship for some young illegal immigrants, but the legislation has repeatedly stalled in Congress.
A potential vice presidential pick, Rubio is an advocate for a shift in how Republicans tackle immigration reform. He has been pursuing an alternative to the Dream Act that has the potential to bolster the GOP’s standing among Latino voters, although it has been getting mixed reviews among immigration rights groups.
The Washington Post has this page of reactions from readers.
The Obama administration has announced a dramatic move to placate the rising anger of Hispanic communities across America by offering a partial Dream Act to young law-abiding immigrants without documents who will now no longer live under the threat of deportation and will have the right to work.
The move will take effect immediately and could have an impact on 800,000 young immigrants, largely Hispanic, who came to the US as children and though hard-working and law-abiding have lived for years under the shadow of deportation.
President Barack Obama’s move to bypass a stonewalling Congress and halt the deportation of adult illegal immigrants brought to the country as children is an election year curveball meant to shore up his support among critical Latino voters.
Until now, Hispanic citizens that are eligible to vote – millions of whom have friends, relatives and neighbours who are in the country illegally – have shown greater ambivalence toward Mr. Obama than they did in 2008.
Though they seem no more likely to vote for Republican Mitt Romney, who has taken a much harder line toward illegal immigrants, anemic turnout among Hispanic voters could swing the fall election in Mr. Romney’s favour in a handful of critical states.
One reason Latinos have been less enthusiastic about Mr. Obama is that he has spent little political capital during his first term attempting to make good on his 2008 promise of reforming the U.S. immigration system in order to provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million, largely Hispanic, undocumented immigrants in the country.
Many Hispanic leaders were also angry when the President failed to put enough pressure on Congress to pass the DREAM Act when both houses were controlled by Democrats in 2010. In the absence of full-scale immigration reform, the bill would provide legal status to students and military personnel brought to the country illegally as children.
On Friday, Mr. Obama sought to make amends by signing an executive order that immediately halts – for the next two years only – the deportation of the up to 800,000 young people covered by the DREAM Act. The order also makes them eligible for work permits, considered the next best thing to permanent resident status.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, an outspoken critic of the Obama administration, said on CNN on Friday that the move amounted to a “first step towards amnesty.”
“I’m just more concerned about the politics of this,” he said. But, he added, if the president’s move prompts Congress to move forward with an immigration reform plan, it’s a good thing.
Arizona is one of several states to enact aggressive state policies on removing illegal immigrants because they feel the federal government has failed to adequately address the problem. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of Arizona’s immigration law this summer.
…..A request for comment from the Romney campaign regarding the Obama administration’s announcement was not immediately returned.
Steffen Schmidt, CNN Espanol analyst and political professor at Iowa State University, noting that Obama’s immigration policies had been tougher than Bush’s, says the move is already creating buzz in the Hispanic community.
“It’s going to really mobilize people who were distressed that there was no alternative to harsher Republican policies,” he says.
Schmidt adds that many in the Latino community were waiting for a such a sign from the Obama administration and that politically, the timing is very good.
President Barack Obama placed immigration enforcement squarely into the presidential race this morning when his administration announced that it would stop deporting illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Disbelief and elation swept through the state’s immigrant community today as people checked text messages and voice mail and e-mail and saw the news — that for the first time in decades law-abiding young people who were brought here as children illegally would no longer face deportation and would be eligible to apply for work permits.
“It doesn’t feel real,” said Renata Teodoro, 24, who moved from Brazil when she was 6 years old. “It’s not everything that we need but it’s a big step.”
Immigrant students had in recent years become highly organized and increasingly public in their quest to gain legal residency, pointing out that it wasn’t their choice to come to America but they had spent most of their lives here, spoke impeccable English, lived exemplary lives, and identified more with the United States than their homelands.
Teodoro was among student organizers who slept in front of the State House, enduring pouring rain, to push for immigrant rights. She also lobbied lawmakers, including US Senator Scott Brown.
She said she was was stunned and still trying to absorb the fact that her life could change dramatically.
Frank Soults, spokesman for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said the new policy would change the lives of many young immigrants.
“It’s a wonderful development and a tremendous relief,” Soults said. “This will provide [young people] the opportunity to continue with their lives and come out of the shadows.”
The election-year move amounts to President Barack Obama’s administration essentially enacting a version of the Dream Act, legislation that Congress has been deadlocked on for years. It appears intended to help the president excite Latino voters frustrated over lack of progress on immigration reform and the Obama administration’s previous aggressive deportation policy in advance of what could be a tough election against Republican Mitt Romney, who has said as president he would veto the Dream Act.
The policy change comes before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision on the legality of Arizona’s tough 2010 immigration law known as Senate Bill 1070.
President Obama’s decision to grant deportation relief to young illegal immigrants has been portrayed by both supporters and opponents as a radical break from the status quo. In reality, it’s an extension of what Obama has been doing for an entire year: using the executive branch to discourage the deportation of certain illegal immigrants that the administration has deemed a lower priority — including students who came to the United States as young children.
Last June, Obama’s immigration chief, John Morton, issued a memo instructing federal immigration agents, lawyers and others to make the deportation of certain classes of immigrants — particularly those who had strong ties to the United States — a lower priority. The memo instructed officials to use new criteria to decide which deportation cases to pursue and which ones to lay aside for the time being.
Such “prosecutorial discretion” is exercised on a case-by-case basis. In other words, it isn’t a get-out-of-deportation-free card, but it effectively makes the deportation of certain immigrants less likely by deferring action.
Obama’s new policy is an extension and expansion of what has been happening under Morton’s memo, essentially prioritizing a subset of immigrants who were already covered by last year’s policy shift. The 2011 memo extended potential deportation relief to a huge swath of immigrants: the elderly, caretakers of the disabled, college graduates or students, and those who’ve made “contributions to the community.” Since then, nearly 300,000 deportation cases have been reviewed using the new criteria, and about 7 percent of them — totaling more than 20,000 — were indefinitely removed from the docket.
The Obama administration’s announcement of a halt to deportation for young illegal immigrants sharpens a contrast on a major issue for Latino voters, an essential part of the president’s coalition if he is to win a second term.
And it comes as some Republican leaders have expressed concern about the party’s standing with the burgeoning electoral force, a particular concern given presidential standard-bearer Mitt Romney’s hard-line stance on illegal immigration.
On Friday morning, before news broke of the administration’s policy change, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said it was essential for Republicans to improve their appeal among Latinos.
“The Latino vote makes a difference and can make the difference in a number of critical states. And so from a purely political perspective sure we have to improve,” Barbour told reporters at a breakfast gathering hosted by the Christian Science Monitor on Friday.
Barbour expressed support for a proposal Rick Perry advocated during the Republican primaries — to allow undocumented workers who have otherwise respected U.S. laws and paid taxes to apply for two-year worker permits but not have a separate path to citizenship.
“We need a secure border for lots of reasons. And then we need to recognize we’re not going to deport 12 million people. We shouldn’t,” he said.
In Republican debates, Romney blasted Perry as well as Newt Gingrich for advocating a policy he said amounted to amnesty.
Why are advocates so excited? Because this is the most important reform the White House can make without going to a deadlocked Congress for new legislation. With Republicans blocking even the most trivial legislation, no one has any realistic hope for a comprehensive immigration reform law in the near future. Even the DREAM Act, which passed the Democratic-controlled House in late 2010, was blocked by a minority in the Senate (55 votes in its favor were not enough).
But this policy will provide relief to so-called DREAMers: people who were brought to the United States at a young age; who count America as their home country; who, though here illegally, are not here as a result of intentionally breaking the law. They will now be able to come forward and apply for deferred action, which will grant them relief from deportation for two years. They’ll also be able to apply for work authorization, so they can support themselves as well. The policy may affect as many as one million undocumented immigrants who would have been eligible for the DREAM Act. After the two years are up, they can reapply for an extension of those benefits.
And while earlier moves by the administration on immigration have brought disappointment, this policy could actually mean relief for hundreds of thousands who deserve it. First, the directive is written in clear, strong language—and it appears to actually be more of a directive than a “recommendation.” …
….Second, this is an affirmative process: Anyone, including those who have never been subject to enforcement action, can come forward and apply for these benefits.
….But from a policy angle, and from a humanitarian angle, today’s news is truly monumental. As David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told me this morning, “The president has used his authority to stop the deportation of promising young DREAMers while giving Congress space to fix the system.” It’s a bold move—one that has already drawn a sharp response from many Republicans, and which will doubtlessly be controversial. But for nearly a million young people who call this country home, today’s news means something much more fundamental: relief from the nightmare of deportation and the chance to earn a living without hiding in the shadows.
Despite what we’re all sure to hear on Fox and Friends—our generation’s Bloomsbury Group—the law is not a form of insta-citizenship. Rather, it is insurance against the threat of deportation, as well as a means for those who qualify to legally hold a job. President Obama will explain all of this at 1:15 p.m. in an address from the White House Rose Garden. Those remarks will subsequently be taken out of context in forthcoming blog posts like, “Hip-Hop President Barack Hussein Obama Gets Giggy [sic] with Open Borders.”
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza looks at whether the GOP’s outreach efforts to Latinons can neutralize Obama’s Hispanic edge
The Wall Street Journal has a large collection of reaction from politicos – and should be read in full. Here are just a few of them:
Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security
The announcement is “an obvious political move five months before Americans decide if the president deserves a second term.” He added: “As the son of a legal immigrant, I know that America is a land of opportunity that many people around the world want to experience so they can provide a better life for their families. “The administration’s unilateral decision today to give amnesty to certain illegal immigrants is not the answer.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), who has pushed for suspension of some deportations
“The Obama Administration’s decision to extend temporary legal status to DREAM Act students is an historic humanitarian moment. This action will give these young immigrants their chance to come out of the shadows and be part of the only country they’ve ever called home. These young people did not make the decision to come to this country, and it is not the American way to punish children for their parents’ actions. I commend President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano for their courage and leadership. I also want to thank Senator Dick Lugar for having the courage to confront Tea Party orthodoxy and join me on a bipartisan basis to request this change in policy.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa)
“The President’s action is an affront to the process of representative government by circumventing Congress and with a directive he may not have the authority to execute. The President once denied that he had the legal authority to do this, and Congress was assured more than once that the administration would consider individuals for this sort of deferred status on a case-by-case basis only, and that there was no plan to implement a broad-based program. It seems the President has put election-year politics above responsible policies. ”
Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa)
“Americans should be outraged that President Obama is planning to usurp the Constitutional authority of the United States Congress and grant amnesty by edict to 1 million illegal aliens.” The DREAM Act’s amnesty program “has been rejected by Congress, and yet President Obama has decided that he will move forward with it anyway. President Obama, an ex constitutional law professor, whose favorite word is audacity, is prepared to violate the principles of Constitutional Law that he taught.”
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.)
Rep. Gutierrez called the announcement a “time for celebration.” But he cautioned that “the details of this program are still being finalized, so immigrants across the country should be patient and very skeptical of anyone who claims to have all the answers immediately. … This will be a process to evaluate each individual case to see if they qualify for the two-year relief, but it is a tremendous first step towards addressing the problems caused by our outdated and inflexible immigration system.”
Rep. Allen West (R., Fla)
Rep. West blasted the administration’s decision, calling it “yet another example of executive branch overreach” and questioned “ how the American economy is going to handle this influx of people, who will without a doubt now be guaranteed services and be competing with Americans for jobs? These are the kind of details that are to be hammered out during the legislative process, and appear to be completely overlooked by this Administration as usual.”
In an interview on Fox News, he took it a step further, asking if President Obama and Secretary Napolitano might issue another executive order to grant voting rights. “Is this one of those backdoor opportunities to allow people in the next five months to get the opportunity to vote? … How far down the rabbit hole does this go?”
Dr. Boyce Watkins calls it a slap in the face to blacks. Part of the post:
African Americans represent the demographic that is most supportive of President Obama, yet they are the most devastated by the effects of mass incarceration. The War on Drugs has destroyed millions of our families, with parents of our children being given several life sentences for non-violent crimes, even when they have no criminal record.
Examples are the case of Mario Lloyd in Chicago, whose children have grown up without a father after seeing their dad receive 14 life sentences for a non-violent crime, and Clarence Aaron, who has spent 20 years in prison after simply witnessing a drug deal. While the president has the power of the pardon, Obama has not cared to use it. To date, he has been arguably the least-forgiving president in recent American history, allowing thousands of fathers, mothers and siblings to rot away in prison, as if their lives mean nothing to him or his cronies in the White House.
With his announcement on illegal immigration, Obama has effectively granted immunity to nearly 800,000 illegal immigrants who clearly broke the law. All the while, he is unwilling to seek the release of thousands of men and women who were sentenced under drug laws that even the president knows to be clearly unjust. He made campaign promises to black Americans that he would fight diligently on their behalf to end the war on drugs, but has shown the courage of a toothless pussy cat who’s had his claws removed.
The time for patience with the Obama Administration should be over, and African Americans who’ve deluded themselves into believing that their first Black president loves them need to take a step back and look at reality. I dare anyone to present any decision made at any point by this president that has received the same cheers in the street as the policies he has thrust onto groups more readily accepted within the liberal establishment. But it is mostly the fault of the Black community that nothing is getting done, since we only seek to swoon to Al Green songs and fall prey to the pressure of self-serving political overseers.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.