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Obama: Immunity for younger immigrants ‘the right thing to do’

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Updated: June 16, 2012 8:05PM



WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives. The election-year initiative addresses a top priority of an influential Latino electorate that has been vocal in its opposition to administration immigration policies and last year’s record number of deportations.

The policy change, described to The Associated Press by two senior administration officials, will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It also bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the so-called DREAM Act, a long-sought but never enacted plan to establish a path toward citizenship for young people who came to the United States illegally but who have attended college or served in the military.

“It is the right thing to do,” President Barack Obama said during a White House announcement. “It makes no sense to expel talented young people who for all intents and purposes are Americans. They have been raised as Americans, understand themselves to be part of this country. ...

“It’s time to lift the shadow of deportation form these young people.”

Obama’s speech was interrupted, multiple times, by Neil Munro of the Daily Caller, a right-wing website. Obama, at one point, told Munro it was not the time for questions. “I didn’t ask for an argument. I’m answering your question.”

The extraordinary deportation move comes in an election year in which the Hispanic vote could be critical in tossup states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida that could go either Democratic or Republican. While Obama enjoys support from a majority of Hispanic voters, Latino enthusiasm for the president has been tempered by the slow economic recovery, his inability to win congressional support for a broad overhaul of immigration laws and by his administration’s aggressive deportation policy. Activists opposing his deportation policies last week mounted a hunger strike at an Obama campaign office in Denver, and other protests were planned for this weekend.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was to announce the new policy Friday, one week before Obama plans to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ annual conference in Florida. Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney is scheduled to speak to the group on Thursday.

Obama planned to discuss the new policy Friday from the White House Rose Garden.

Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned an equivalent degree, or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed. The officials who described the plan spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it in advance of the official announcement.

The policy will not lead toward citizenship but will remove the threat of deportation and grant the ability to work legally, leaving eligible immigrants able to remain in the United States for extended periods. It tracks closely to a proposal offered by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a child of immigrants who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, as an alternative to the DREAM Act.

“Many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways,” Napolitano wrote in a memorandum describing the administration’s action. “Prosecutorial discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here.”

The change is likely to cause an outcry from congressional Republicans, who are sure to perceive Obama’s actions as an end run around them. Republicans already have complained that previous administration uses of prosecutorial discretion in deportations amount to back-door amnesty. Romney and many Republican lawmakers want tighter border security measures before considering changes in immigration law. Romney opposes offering legal status to illegal immigrants who attend college but has said he would do so for those who serve in the armed forces.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month found Obama leading Romney among Hispanic voters 61 percent to 27 percent. But his administration’s deportation policies have come under fire, and Latino leaders have raised the subject in private meetings with the president. In 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported a record 396,906 people and is expected to deport about 400,000 this year.

A December poll by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that 59 percent of Latinos disapproved of the president’s handling of deportations.

The changes come a year after the administration announced plans to focus on deporting serious criminals, immigrants who pose threats to public safety and national security, and serious immigration law violators.



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