President Barack Obama eased enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws Friday, an extraordinary step offering a chance for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work. Hispanics, other minorities and civil rights proponents embraced his action.
The President said the change would become effective immediately to “lift the shadow of deportation from these young people. . . It makes no sense to expel talented young people, who, for all intents and purposes, are Americans — they’ve been raised as Americans; understand themselves to be part of this country — to expel these young people who want to staff our labs, or start new businesses, or defend our country simply because of the actions of their parents — or because of the inaction of politicians. 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.”
The administration said the change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the “DREAM Act,” legislation that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who went to college or served in the military.
“It’s not just about where you were born that makes you American. It’s about how you live your life and what you do in the only country you’ve always loved and called home, too,” said Congresswoman Chille Pingree. “If Congress isn’t going to act and make this common sense reform, I’m glad the President has stepped up to the plate and put this policy into effect.”
The announcement is legal under homeland security laws.
“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” said Secretary of Homeland Security 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.”
“We prioritized border security, putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history — today, there are fewer illegal crossings than at any time in the past 40 years. We focused and used discretion about whom to prosecute, focusing on criminals who endanger our communities rather than students who are earning their education. And today, deportation of criminals is up 80 percent. We’ve improved on that discretion carefully and thoughtfully. Well, today, we’re improving it again,” said Obama.
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:
1.) Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
2.) 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;
3.) 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;
4.) 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;
5.) 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 <http://www.dhs.gov/files/enforcement/deferred-action-process-for-young-people-who-are-low-enforcement-priorities.shtm> on the new policy should visit USCIS’s website (at www.uscis.gov <http://www.uscis.gov> ), ICE’s website (at www.ice.gov <http://www.ice.gov> ), or DHS’s website (at www.dhs.gov <http://www.dhs.gov> ). Beginning Monday, individuals can also call USCIS’ hotline at 1-800-375-5283 or ICE’s hotline at 1-888-351-4024during 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.