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Today, the Department of Homeland Security announced that, effective immediately, certain individuals who were brought to the United States as children and meet specific criteria will be considered for relief from being put in deportation proceedings or removed from the country. Let us be clear, this is NOT amnesty and acts as more of a band-aid on a contentious and sensitive issue that can only truly be remedied by comprehensive immigration reform.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, writes "This memorandum confers no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship. Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights. It remains for the executive branch, however, to set forth policy for the exercise of discretion within the framework of the existing law."
So what does this mean for the undocumented immigrant community? This newly-announced policy will act to prevent the deportation or initiation of removal proceedings against certain young people who were brought to this country as children, and who have completed at least high school or obtained a GED certificate.
Today's policy announcement does not grant any kind of status to eligible individuals. Eligible individuals will be granted "deferred action" which is a temporary reprieve from deportation. Those granted deferred action may then apply for employment authorization from the USCIS.
The new policy establishes certain criteria for deferred action:
The individual must have come to the United States under the age of sixteen;He/she must have continually resided in the U.S. for at least five years preceding the date of the memorandum (6-15-12) and must be present in the U.S. on the date of the memo;She/he must currently be in school, have graduated from high school, obtained a general education (GED) certificate, or be an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;The individual cannot have been convicted of a felony offense, significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety; andThe individual must not be above the age of 30.
Today's announcement is essentially the next step following earlier DHS announcements regarding prosecutorial discretion. In August of 2011, DHS published a memo in which the agency would review deportation cases and grant prosecutorial discretion to "low priority" cases. Since that policy took effect, however, only about two percent of pending removal cases have actually been granted prosecutorial discretion. And those who have received prosecutorial discretion do not necessarily qualify for employment authorization. So for many, while they may remain in the U.S., they cannot earn a living.
Today's policy announcement targets a more specific group of individuals, commonly known as "DREAMERs." These are individuals who would benefit from the DREAM Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation which would provide a path to legal status for those who were brought to the United States as children and educated in our nation's schools. Although the DREAM Act initially enjoyed bi-partisan support, the contentious climate in Congress has prevented its passage.
Predictably, several prominent Republicans have already come out against this policy change, including Senator Lindsay Graham who criticized the decision because it "avoids dealing with Congress." Similarly, Rep. Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said, "President Obama's decision to grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants is a breach of faith with the American people" (Apparently, he missed the memo). Such statements grossly mischaracterize the nature of the DHS prosecutorial discretion policy, and mislead the general public.
The new policy recognizes some important facts in a couple of ways. Firstly, DHS can deport about 400,000 individuals per year. Given that there are around 12,000,000 undocumented individuals in the United States, it makes sense to prioritize who gets to stay and who must go.
Secondly, the individuals who are being considered for this discretion are not individuals who intentionally broke the law or had any control over their situation. These 800,000 individuals were brought to this country by their families as minors; for many this is the only country they have ever known. They graduated from school, many at the top of their class. They have been productive members of our society.
Let's get real; these individuals are de facto Americans, and kudos to the Obama administration for adopting a policy that will not target such individuals for deportation and will allow them to obtain work permits.
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Updated 12-02-2013 at 06:58 PM by CShusterman
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."
This memorandum outlines the criteria for consideration. The criteria includes individuals who are age fifteen or over and:
· came tothe United States under the age of sixteen;
· have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding the date of the Secretary's memorandum and are present in the United Stateson the date of the Secretary's 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; and
· are not above the age of thirty.
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 at1-800-375-5283 or ICE's hotline at 1-888-351-4024 during business hours with questions or to request more information on the forthcoming process.
It's intriguing to see how Mitt Romney is handling the President's big announcement on DREAMers. He's trying to balance going on the attack against the President, but doesn't want to offend the Latino community. So he is attacking the President for wanting to change the subject from the economy, for playing politics and for bypassing Congress.
But he's also been very - VERY - cautious about not attacking the policy in and of itself. The New York Times had this to say -
Responding to the challenge that President Obama posed in his order last week to stop deporting some illegal immigrants, Mitt Romney declined to say on Sunday whether he would reverse the president's decision if he takes up occupancy of the White House.
Although Mr. Romney said during the Republican primary debates that he would veto the Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants, he was more equivocal about Mr. Obama's order last week. It allows work permits and prevents deportation for as many as 1.4 million undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 who were brought to the United States as children.
My own view is that Romney will somehow find a way to one up the President. Look for him to now come out and support the Rubio bill (which is all of a sudden going to get introduced now that Romney has no choice but to promote it). And look for Romney to twist arms and get the bill endorsed by enough Republicans to be able to pass it. Also look for the Rubio bill to be broadened to include as many people as the Obama order covers.
The arm twisting of Republicans is going to be the entertaining part. How to keep Steve King, Lamar Smith and a host of others relatively quiet? That's going to be an early test of Romney's leadership skills. If he can get Republicans to back the Rubio plan, that at least is an indicator that he could push through legislation if he gets elected.
Even if the Rubio bill doesn't pass, I don't see any chance that a President Romney will reverse course and subject any of the Deferred Action beneficiaries to deportation or the loss of their work authorization. Romney will have a lot to prove to Hispanic voters and cancelling the Obama order would be a political disaster.
Some of the advocacy groups have been reporting that Deferred Action beneficiaries will be able to enlist in the military as a result of the new policy. Not so. Even with an employment authorization document, deferred action recipients are not eligible to enlist. Hopefully, this will change.
No one has held President Obama's feet to the fire more consistently on immigration than my colleague, Matt Kolken. There is good reason to believe that Matt's powerful indictment of the president, day after day, for his deportation mania, his administration's detention atrocities, and many other anti-immigrant policies, may have helped to shame Barack Obama into doing an about face on DREAM, by a memo (not an executive order, as some right wing critics are claiming) adopting some of its most important provisions temporarily.. Congratulations to Matt, a modern day Emile Zola.
What else might have motivated President Obama to do the right thing at almost just the last moment before the election? There is obviously quite a bit of hard-nosed political calculation involved. Both sides are finally realizing that Latino voters will play a more important role in this election than ever before (despite desperate attempts by the Republicans to suppress the minority vote in Florida and many other states).
Obama has certainly made a smart political move in distinguishing himself from the Republicans on immigration rights (just as he has on gay rights) as shown by Romney's totally confused and flat-footed response to the president's initiative. Of course, Obama is open to justified criticism for waiting so long. What kind of advisers have been telling him to ramp up deportations to unprecedented levels for the past 3 and 1/2 years? However, it is better to do the right thing late than never. .
While it has taken Barack Obama much too long, i.e. most of his presidency so far, to make his gesture of reason and humanity toward Latino and other minority immigrants, and while there is, unquestionably, cold political calculation involved, the president's move is still welcome and should be applauded. If he were to show some more wisdom and humanity and stop deporting record numbers of immigrants per year, and were willing to make his "prosecutorial discretion" policy binding as well, that would be even more welcome and worthy of applause.
As a famous comedian was said to have answered when he was asked how he felt about growing old, it is still better than the alternative. What is the alternative to Obama on immigration today? Joe Arpaio, Jan Brewer, Kris Kobach - and - Mitt Romney, who, in the primary, followed the extremist anti-immigrant line, spoke in favor of "self-deportation" for 12 million men, women and children, and now refuses to say whether he would reverse Obama's DREAM initiative if elected president, are enough to provide an answer.
It is very easy to criticize the president on immigration. Despite his welcome but long overdue volte-face on DREAM, he still has a long way to go on immigrant rights. But at least he is making a move in the right direction. In which direction are Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans moving on immigration?