Obama Offers Relief to Unauthorized Immigrants

Barrington M. Salmon | 6/20/2012, 12:51 p.m.

President Barack Obama surprised the nation and did an end-around on the Republicans last Friday when he announced an executive order that protects young, undocumented immigrants from being deported.

The decision is not a blanket amnesty for the nation's more than 12 million unauthorized immigrants, but provides those between the ages of 16 and 30 the opportunity to avoid becoming enmeshed in the immigration apparatus. The executive order affects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16; who have resided continuously in the country for at least five years preceding the date of the Department of Homeland Security [DHS] memorandum and those present in the United States on the date of this memorandum.

"Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people," Obama said during a Rose Garden press conference on June 15.

"Now, let's be clear - this is not an amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stop gap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely, while giving relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people."

"These young people study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they're friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents - sometimes as infants - and often have no idea that they're undocumented until they apply for a job, or a driver's license, or a college scholarship."

The decision has left immigrants generally joyous, cautious and hopeful but some advocates feel that Obama hasn't done enough and they are demanding that he end the deportations and push through comprehensive and far-reaching legislation in Congress.

Undocumented immigrants must be currently in school, have graduated from high school, obtained a GED certificate, or be honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States to be considered. They cannot have been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety; and they cannot be above the age of 30.

Michelle Mittelstadt of the Migration Policy Institute [MPI] and Mark Lopez of the Pew Hispanic Center said their research indicates that about 1.4 million undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 are affected. Some are already involved in removal proceedings or could be at risk of being deported in the future.

Janet Napolitano, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has directed the department's personnel to exercise prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis using the criteria outlined in the executive order.

"This is only really a temporary gaining of status for this population," said Mittelstadt, MPI's director of communications. "Under the announcement, there is a certain defined population ... they will be protected from deportation for two years. It's not conveying legal status on this population. Anybody who meets the criteria and who comes up against immigration authorities will be considered."