New Rules Change Deportation Picture for Young Immigrants

The Obama Administration forged a landmark change in the guidelines used by prosecutors to make deportation decisions last week. The change, designed to serve as a temporary stop gap until Congress once again takes up the debate on the comprehensive immigration DREAM act, will have an effect of postponing — and in some cases stopping — deportation proceedings against nearly 800,000 illegal immigrants. The rule change is targeting those who were brought into the country as children by their parents and could open the door for some of them to obtain work permits.

As the deliberations on the DREAM Act stalled in the sharply-divided Congress, President Barack Obama came under increased pressure to take steps to normalize the status of young immigrants who have spent most of their lives in the country, yet had no legal permission reside here. Some attribute the timing of the change to the fact that the President is in the middle of a tough reelection campaign and considers Latino voters to be crucial to winning in November. In the past, Obama has faced criticism for not being aggressive enough in his immigration policies, both from supporters and opponents of comprehensive immigration reform.

The policy was announced Friday morning by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

“Effective immediately, young people who were brought to the US through no fault of their own as children and who meet certain criteria will be eligible to receive deferred action for a period of 2 years and that period will be subject to renewal,” she said.

The President spoke more in depth about the decision in a press conference later that afternoon. Although the new rules don’t open a pathway to permanent residency, they do allow those who meet conditions set by the administration to obtain legal employment. Those who are covered must be between the ages of 16 and 30 and must have entered the country with their parents before their sixteenth birthday. They must have also have continually resided in the U.S. for at least five years, be either enrolled in high school, recent graduates or left the armed services with an honorable discharge.

After the new rule was announced, the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released a statement praising the President’s move as a positive step for the country’s economic future.

“Today’s announcement will help ensure that thousands of talented and productive young people will more fully contribute to our nation,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “It is fitting that this announcement comes on the 30th anniversary of Plyler v. Doe, where the Supreme Court held that a child may not be denied equal access to public education based on his or her immigration status. This Administration is committed to upholding the promise of Plyler, and will continue working vigorously to assure that the American educational system remains open to all young people who reside in this country.”