The White House issued new rules for the treatment of young immigrants subject to deportation on Friday, an order hailed by President Obama and his supporters as a significant milestone and by conservatives as potentially unconstitutional “amnesty” for “illegals.”
But for immigration activists and the millions of immigrants facing forcible removal from the United States solely for the actions of their parents, the move is barely a step forward from the broken status quo of American immigration policy.
Bowing to sustained pressure from the politically potent Hispanic community and advocates for the more than 13 million undocumented people now in the U.S., the president ordered on Friday that policies for deporting certain kinds of undocumented immigrants be tweaked in order to cut down on the number of deportations carried out by federal agencies.
Up to 800,000 children or young adults who came into the country illegally with their parents before the age of 16 will be allowed to obtain a two-year “deferral” of deportation that will permit them to work or go to school in the United States.
Criteria is strict for those the White House deemed eligible for the policy shift, a presidential directive that bypasses a gridlocked Congress that has made no progress on immigration reform of any sort in years. Immigrants can only be eligible for deportation deferrals if they do not haver a criminal record, have been in the country a certain length of time, are attending or have attended high school or college, or have served in the military.
In an election-year policy change, the Obama administration said Friday it will stop deporting young illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children if they meet certain requirements.
The shift on the politically volatile issue of immigration policy prompted immediate praise from Latino leaders who have criticized Congress and the White House for inaction, while Republicans reacted with outrage, saying the move amounts to amnesty — a negative buzz word among conservatives — and usurps congressional authority.
Under the new policy, people younger than 30 who came to the United States before the age of 16, pose no criminal or security threat, and were successful students or served in the military can get a two-year deferral from deportation, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
It also will allow those meeting the requirements to apply for work permits, Napolitano said, adding that participants must be in the United States now and be able to prove they have been living in the country continuously for at least five years.
The change is part of a department effort to target resources at illegal immigrants who pose a greater threat, such as criminals and those trying to enter the country now, Napolitano said, adding it was “well within the framework of existing laws.”
The move addresses a major concern of the Hispanic community and mimics some of the provisions of a Democratic proposal called the DREAM Act that has failed to win enough Republican support to gain congressional approval.
The apparent immunity granted to a relatively small number of American-raised immigrants has been received by many as President Obama’s answer to congressional inaction on the DREAM Act, legislation that would have built a path to citizenship for all children of undocumented individuals brought to America as minors and had since either attended or graduated college or served in the military.
The differences between the president’s directive and the DREAM Act are stark; Friday’s rules change affects under half of the estimated 2.1 million children or young adults currently in the country “illegally” but that have met the criteria for DREAM citizenship, is strictly a temporary maneuver that only delays deportation, and does not offer even the remote possibility of a path to citizenship.
Nevertheless, President Obama sought to take credit for what he called a “more fair” and “more just” immigration policy in remarks on his decision. The president hinted at the inability of Congress to pass the DREAM Act or any reasonable compromise, adding to the impression by the White House and supporters that the president is creating an identical alternative on his own.
President Barack Obama on Friday announced a major election-year immigration policy shift to halt the deportation of certain younger illegal immigrants and grant them work permits, infuriating Republicans with what the president said is a step toward making the country’s immigration system “more fair, more efficient and more just.”
In a speech from the Rose Garden, Obama explained that the new policy would spare young people who are “Americans in their heart” the fear of deportation.
In his speech, Obama also blasted Republicans for blocking the passage of the DREAM Act, which would give some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. The rule will apply to those under 30 who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 and are considered to present no risk to national security or public safety.
“I’ve said time and time again to Congress: send me the DREAM Act, put it on my desk, and I will sign it right away,” he said. “Both parties wrote this legislation a year and a half ago, Democrats passed the DREAM Act in the House but Republicans walked away from it. It got 55 votes in the senate but Republicans blocked it.”
But there is no validity in any comparison between the wide-ranging impacts of the DREAM Act and the incredibly limited scope of President Obama’s action taken on Friday, little more than a rules change that only promises students and military veterans who happened to be brought into America as children that they will not be apprehended by federal immigration agents. And that protection is painfully limited; the “deferrals” approved in the directive are only valid for two years, meaning that a change of heart from a reelected Obama or the agenda of a new president would wipe out immunity from deportation for the 800,000 that are under the umbrella of the new rules.
Even the president, in what was actually a message meant to reassure conservative critics that his new policy has no long-term benefits for undocumented immigrants, noted that it does not equal a “path to citizenship” for them.
“This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix,” Obama said. “This is a temporary, stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to … patriotic young people.
Making it clear that the political necessity of winning the Hispanic vote in this fall’s election was at best a convenient side benefit and at worst the sole calculation of the White House, supporters of Obama were quick to offer grandiose praise and highlight the “bold move” and “major breakthrough” initiated by the president.
More grounded reviews of the president;s order will find that it offers precious few protections for productive and “patriotic” Americans that have been living in fear of arrest and deportation for years. The only important development to come from the policy change — no deportations for 800,000 young undocumented Latinos — is fragile at best and dependent on executive whim after two years.
Republicans will call this “amnesty.” Yet this move doesn’t grant citizenship or legal status. It’s essentially a promise not to deport and permission to work—unless the order is reversed. This is a temporary solution to a policy problem that Congress has consistently lacked the courage to resolve: the presence of undocumented immigrants who are here through no fault of their own and who have never known another home. And the devil is in the implementation. Previous promises to exercise discretion by the administration haven’t panned out as advertised.
Ironically (or not so ironically in an election year), the president’s policy is most similar not to the progressive DREAM Act or other reforms championed by the Hispanic activist community, but by moderate to conservative Republicans who oppose legislation that sanctions what they call “amnesty.”
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s has gained the most attention from lawmakers and the media for his proposals that ostensibly grant minimal protections to the children and young adults of immigrants targeted by DREAM and other efforts. Rubio is a rising star in the GOP and touted as a potential running mate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Many of the details regarding qualifications and rules in Rubio’s plan are closely aligned with what the White House released on Friday. Rubio and other Republicans do not offer any path to citizenship or any long-term government approval for remaining in the United States like green cards for permanent residency, mainly focusing on granting permits for low-paying jobs, attending college, or serving in the military.
The compromise would grant students who are the children of illegal immigrants a new kind of nonimmigrant visa that would let them live in this country legally for a period of time. They could work, drive and pay taxes. He would also grant nonimmigrant visas to the graduates of colleges and trade schools, enabling them to stay here and work.
The proposal would not grant them green cards, giving them permanent residency, which sets it apart from the original Dream Act. With their nonimmigrant visas, they could seek green cards in the traditional way, either through marriage, family or an employer. But they could remain in this country legally during that process.
Not lost in the proceedings closely tailored by the White House are the political ramifications sure to come of Friday’s events. With President Obama locked in a generally close race with GOP nominee Romney and support among so-called “swing voters in question, the president’s campaign needs strong turnout among the base that helped him win in 2008 more than ever.
Hispanic Americans were an overwhelming part of the Obama campaign’s winning coalition last election, coming out in record numbers, overwhelmingly for the president. But with falling approval ratings among Hispanic voters, Obama is not on track to repeat the success of four years ago in dominating support among the nation’s largest minority group.
Foremost among the concerns voiced by the Latino community over the president’s fort term performance has been the issue addressed by the White House directly on Friday. Nothing has incensed Hispanic voters more than the record number of deportations carried out on Obama;’s watch. More than 400,000 immigrants were forcibly removed from the country last year, with the administration failing to live up to promises made by the president to focus deportation policies only on criminals and specifically avoid families or young adults among the undocumented.
Just this week advocates for immigration reform and Hispanic leaders charged President Obama with a “failing” policy on immigration and “condemned” him for such an aggressive record of mass deportation.
Immigrant advocates on Monday condemned the administration’s recent findings that a policy designed to reduce the deportations of otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants has had almost no effect.
An ongoing government review has found that fewer than 2 percent of the more than 400,000 pending deportation cases have been halted.
The government says thousands more cases will be closed, but critics say the paltry results so far expose an unwillingness among immigration agents to enforce the new policy.
“We were quite hopeful that the new policies would usher in a new era of humane enforcement,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund, told reporters on a conference call with other advocacy groups. “A year later, we are sad to declare that the implementation of this policy is failing. [It] has not made this better and to some extent has made it worse.”