WASHINGTON – After deporting a record number of undocumented immigrants, the administration of President Barack Obama announced changes on Friday that may benefit as many as 1.4 million minors and young adults, most of them Hispanics.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that she will postpone for two years the deportation of young people who comply with specific requirements. During that period the immigrants will be able to obtain work permits.
She said the changes will go into effect immediately, since they will be enacted by a presidential order.
“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” Napolitano said. “But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case.”
The measure, demanded by the Hispanic community in the United States, could help Obama in his battle for reelection.
The Democrat took 67 percent of the Latino vote in 2008.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has expressed opposition to any legislative or executive measure that could lead to the legalization of undocumented immigrants.
To qualify for relief, immigrants must be 30 or under and be able to prove they entered the United States before the age of 16, that they have lived in the country for at least five years before this announcement and are in the United States at this time.
Other requirements for deportation postponement include the conditions that young people must be enrolled in school or have graduated from high school or have obtained a GED credential, or are veterans with honorable discharges from the Armed Forces or the Coast Guard.
At the same time, their record must include no serious or repeated crimes, and must indicate that they do not “otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement will begin to evaluate the applications in 60 days.
In fiscal year 2011 the Obama administration deported more than 396,000 people, topping the 389,000 that were expelled the previous year.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people are in detention centers awaiting deportation or have been summoned for hearings previous to deportation.
Obama said today that it is not right to deport hundreds of thousands of young people who “are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”
“Put yourself in their shoes,” he said during a speech in the White House Rose Garden. “Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life, studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class, only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak.”
“Now, these are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag,” the president said.
The purpose of Friday’s decision is “to mend our nation’s immigration policy, to make it more fair, more efficient and more just,” he said.
Government officials estimate that at least 800,000 people could benefit from this measure, while the Pew Hispanic Center, in a report released Friday, raises that number to as much as 1.4 million.
“Now, let’s be clear,” Obama said. “This is not amnesty. This is not immunity ... This is a temporary, stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.”
For the president, the next step must be the approval of the DREAM Act, blocked in Congress in 2010, that would permit the legalization of undocumented students who entered the United States before the age of 16 and complete at least two years of college or enlist in the Armed Forces. EFE