A new United States immigration policy that will end the threat of deportation for young, undocumented immigrants with clean criminal records has been adopted by President Barrak Obama administration.
The move, announced Friday by the President in a bid to court an influential Latino electorate, is expected to affect as many as 800,000 immigrants nationwide who now live in fear of deportation.
The initiative 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.
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 no older than 30; have been in the country for at least five continuous years; have no criminal history; and graduated from a U.S. high school, earned a GED 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.
“Many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet 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 move is expected to provide new opportunities for between 200 and 20,000 illegal immigrants in Iowa alone while many other states are gearing up to savor the benefits.
The moved sparked immediate outrage from Iowa politicians, including the threat of a lawsuit from Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, called the president’s action “an affront to the process of representative government,” but Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, applauded the move as a humane gesture that will preserve families.
Obama said the new policy will not lead toward citizenship for undocumented young adults. It will remove the threat of deportation, grant them the ability to work legally and make eligible immigrants able to remain in the United States for extended periods. Iowa lawyers said immigrants covered by the new rule still could be deported if they commit a crime and would not have any right to re-enter the country if they travel outside its borders.
“It’s like saying, ‘OK, we’ll allow you to stay here but under a lot of conditions,’ ” said Des Moines attorney Michael Said. “There are a lot of people who are going to be eliminated from this because they committed a crime. And there’s another catch, that you have to have come here involuntarily” as children.
Said estimated that “maybe three or four” of his clients would immediately qualify under the new rules, perhaps 200 people statewide.
Des Moines attorney James Benzoni estimated that up to 10,000 immigrants in Iowa illegally could take immediate advantage of the new policy, perhaps double that if immigrant children who are not yet old enough to work are considered.
“What this gives us, it gives them at least a foothold at getting something legal,” Benzoni said. “It’s a good start.”
A study by Pew Research Center last year estimated that there were between 55,000 and 120,000 unauthorized immigrants in Iowa in 2010.
A spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Education said officials don’t know how many illegal immigrants are enrolled in the state’s K-12 schools. Officials declined to comment Friday on the new policy, saying they needed more time to review it and study the implications.
Mark Grey, director of Iowa Center for Immigration Leadership and Integration, said business owners should be excited because the policy will make their potential employee pool larger.
“In a state like ours, it will be very helpful in reversing rural depopulation and loss of working-age people in rural communities,” Grey said. Small-business owners have been “begging for this kind of thing.”
Carl Turner, superintendent of schools in Storm Lake, where roughly 80 percent of students are minorities, praised President Barack Obama’s efforts as “a step in the right direction.”
“We have some very talented kids here in Storm Lake that are undocumented,” Turner said. “It’s heart-breaking to see them come so far, graduate from high school and then realize they are looking at a very limited set of options.”
The work permits proposed by the president could open more doors, allowing students to enroll at colleges or apply for a wide variety of jobs, Turner said. Immigrants without proper papers are often relegated to menial labor positions, regardless of their academic performance in high school.
“If they’re on the path, and they are capable, and they’re willing to put the energy and effort into it, I just don’t think it’s right to close the door on them,” Turner said. “These kids shouldn’t be punished for decisions their parents made.”
Gloria Aguilar, a Citizens for Community Improvement member, said she anticipates that it will be beneficial to high school students.
“I know a lot of young people that, after they finish high school, even if they’re very smart, they have good grades and they could get very good scholarships, they get stuck because they just cannot keep going in school because they have no papers,” she said. “A lot of schools, they won’t accept you if you don’t have a Social Security number.”
Still, the children of undocumented immigrants will continue to face difficulties.
“Students who are not citizens aren’t eligible for financial aid, making paying for college a huge obstacle,” said Jennifer Rebel, a high school counselor who will join the Adel-DeSoto-Minburn district this fall.
Under the new rules, immigrants whose deportation cases are pending in immigration court will have to prove their eligibility for a reprieve to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which will begin dealing with such cases in 60 days. Any immigrant who already has a deportation order and those who never have been encountered by immigration authorities will deal with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The details of how the program will work, including how much immigrants will have to pay to apply and what proof they will need, still are being worked out.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month found Obama leading Republican challenger Mitt 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. ICE deported a record 396,906 people in 2011 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.
Vanessa Marcano, a Latino Community Organizer with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, called Friday’s announcement an “unprecedented” step for the cause of immigrants — a direct contrast, she said, from the administration’s aggressive deportation policy. An immigrant from Venezuela herself, Marcano said Obama’s move could create more excitement among Latino voters.
“There’s been disappointment because the policies haven’t been as strong as the community was expecting,” she said. “But we do know that there is a lot of support for our cause, and news like this is definitely starting to cement back and restore the faith in what President Obama can do for the Latino community
*For Astrid Silva, the news came just in time for her 20th anniversary of coming to this country.
President Barack Obama announced Friday that his administration would stop deporting and give work permits to undocumented immigrants who had entered the country as children. It was a gesture of good faith to fire up the Democrats’ Latino base.
It also surprised his political opponents, as well as those in Las Vegas who will soon benefit from the order.
“I had always pictured that I knew how I was going to react when it happened,” Silva said. “You wait so long for something, and then it finally came … and I felt like I was in a daze. I kept asking, ‘Are you serious? Is this for real?’”
Silva is one of many undocumented immigrants in the Las Vegas area who have come to be known as “the Dreamers.” The name is coined from long-simmering congressional legislation meant to put young, undocumented college students and military enlistees on a path to U.S. citizenship.
Silva’s parents brought her to the United States illegally from Mexico when she was 4 — a start that has prevented Silva from having a driver’s license, Social Security number, passport and an existence free from the fear that at any time, she might be deported.
The Associated Press contributed to this story, as did Register reporters Mary Stegmeir, Grant Rodgers and Marco Santana.
Source:Des Moneis Register