Obama Administration Says Some Youth Deportations to End
By Laura Litvan and Mike Dorning – Jun 15, 2012 6:39 PM GMT+0100
The Obama administration will immediately stop deporting some illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and make them eligible for work permits, in an election-year effort with appeal to Latino voters.
The new policy affects about 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before age 16, have been in the country for at least five years, have no criminal record and are in school or have a high school diploma or equivalent, according to the Homeland Security Department.
“This grant of a deferred action is not immunity, it is not amnesty,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. Napolitano said today on a conference call. “It will help us continue to streamline immigration enforcement and ensure that resources are not spent pursuing the removal of low- priority cases involving productive young people.”
The administration’s action would bypass Congress, where legislation known as the Dream Act designed to give a path to legal status for younger undocumented immigrants has been stalled. It also pushes the issue back into the spotlight in the election campaign between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, who has opposed the Dream Act.
Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democratic leader, said he raised concerns with the administration two months ago that career DHS officials were deporting young people who would be covered by provisions of the Dream Act. He said the president’s decision to address that issue creates stark party differences in this fall’s election.
“Governor Romney went so far as to say he would veto the Dream Act,” Durbin said in a telephone interview. “I do believe on balance most independents and certainly many people on our side feel this is an historic humanitarian moment.”
Obama campaign officials are counting on strong support from Hispanic voters to give the president an edge in what most national polls show is a close race. Obama in 2008 won the Hispanic vote over Republican John McCain by 67 percent to 31 percent, according to an analysis of exit polls by the Pew Hispanic Center.
Romney has said he opposes the Dream Act along with any proposal that would give legal status to undocumented immigrants without first requiring that they leave the United States. He says such measures are “amnesty” and a magnet for law- breakers.
During the Republican primary, he criticized Texas Governor Rick Perry for backing a law allowing illegal immigrant students to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities, and attacked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for proposing a way to avoid deportation for otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants who had been in the U.S. for decades, learned English, and established families and civic and community ties.
Romney said in April that he would review a proposal by Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida — a potential vice presidential running-mate — to grant work visas to some young people brought to the United States illegally as children if they served in the military or pursued an education.
In a statement today, Rubio said there was wide support for helping children who are undocumented through no fault of their own. He said Obama’s policy will make it harder to balance achieving that goal while discouraging illegal immigration.
“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,” Rubio said.
Trent Lott, the former Republican Senate leader who is supporting Romney, said Obama’s action is politically calculated and signals that Obama’s campaign believes it needs to lean disproportionately on Latino voters.
“Some in the Hispanic community will appreciate it, but that kind of thing should be done legislatively and it continues to encourage illegal conduct,” Lott said. While it will anger some voters, he said, “Most of the ones it will anger probably wouldn’t have voted for him anyway.”
“It may even be a net plus for him politically, but the question is: Is it the right thing to do?” Lott said.
Napolitano said it is.
“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a strong and sensible manner,” Napolitano said. “But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case.”
Under the new policy, those eligible can apply for a two- year deferment on any deportation action, and if granted, the ability to work in the U.S., said two senior administration officials who briefed reporters on condition their names not be used.
Those with the deferments must renew them every two years in order to stay in the U.S., they said. Those granted the two- year immunity from deportation in 2012 will still have them in effect until 2014 even if the White House changes hands in this fall’s elections, they said.
Obama’s policy is vulnerable to a legal challenge because his executive order goes far beyond the typical scope of such presidential actions, said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He said said Obama’s executive order is a “back-door Dream Act” and that Obama is trying to accomplish a policy objective by executive fiat that is Congress’s responsibility, he said.
“This is usurping the powers of Congress,” Baker said. “Congress may not be willing to pass it, but we have a Constitution that says this is Congress’s job.”
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said called it is “an affront to the process of representative government by circumventing Congress and with a directive he may not have the authority to execute.”
In Congress, debate over the Dream Act has stymied amid opposition from Republicans and some Democrats to actions that relax immigration changes before additional efforts are taken to secure the U.S. border with Mexico.
Senate Democrats in December 2010 attempted to advance a Dream Act measure, but Republicans and a bloc of Democrats blocked it on a 55-41 vote — short of the 60 required to begin debate. Days earlier, a House then controlled by Democrats narrowly passed a similar measure, 216-198.
For past Republican supporters of the measure, the issue has come with political consequences as party voters have turned against efforts to address the needs of illegal immigrants and more in favor of tough border enforcement.
Two Republican senators who once favored the Dream Act found the issue used against them by Republican primary challengers this year. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, lost his May primary to Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who favors a harder line on immigrants. The other, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, has a June 26 primary against a Tea Party-backed challenger.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said the Ohio Republican’s staff is “still looking at the proposal.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky today repeatedly declined to answer reporters’ request for comment on the policy change today during an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
Democratic leaders heralded the action. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democratic leader, said Obama “has accomplished what far too few Republicans were brave enough to even discuss.”
Obama has supported an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws to create a work permit system and a path to citizenship for some of the 11.5 million people now in the U.S. illegally, a plan backed by his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush. Congressional Republicans have blocked the proposal and several states, including Arizona, have tightened immigration enforcement.
As Obama has pushed for changes in immigration law, his administration has bolstered enforcement, including deploying 1,200 National Guard troops in 2010 to help monitor the border with Mexico. The U.S. deported 396,906 illegal immigrants in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, a record, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Some young immigrants who could benefit from the new policy heralded today’s action.
Houston resident Loren Campos, 23, said today achieved a lifelong dream in May 2011 when he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in civil engineering. His pride, though, was overshadowed by fear that he could be deported at any time because he came to this country illegally.
“It was bittersweet,” he said of his graduation because of the fear. “Now this policy change will provide an opportunity to give back to the country I consider my home.”