Obama announces deferred action on deportation of young illegal immigrants

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President Barack Obama’s administration announced a new immigration policy Friday that will protect young illegal immigrants from deportation and allow them to obtain work permits.

Under this plan —  issued in a memorandum sent by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to the heads of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Citizenship and Immigration Services and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — illegal immigrants will avoid deportation for two years of “deferred action”  if they meet a series of qualifications.

According to a press release from the Department of Homeland Security, individuals must have been brought to the United States before they turned 16 and be younger than 30 to qualify for deferred action. They must have lived in the country for at least five consecutive years with no criminal history and they must have graduated from a U.S. high school, earned a GED or served in the military.

This policy also enables illegal immigrants who meet these qualifications to apply for a work permit that will be good for two years and have no limits upon renewal. While this is not a path directly towards citizenship, it does allow an estimated 800,000 illegal immigrants to remain in the United States for extended periods without threat of deportation.

“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner, but they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in the press release. “Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here.”

These new measures may serve as only a temporary solution to a greater problem, since they do not offer a way of obtaining permanent citizenship and can be overturned by any future administrations because they are enforced by executive order and not legislation.

In a press conference at the White House Friday, Obama said the new policy would make the immigration system “more efficient and more just.”

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said a statement issued Friday that the new policy could present difficult obstacles to  future immigration reform.

“There is broad support for the idea that we should figure out a way to help kids who are undocumented through no fault of their own,” said Rubio in the statement. “But there is also broad consensus that it should be done in a way that does not encourage illegal immigration in the future.”

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau expressed his support for the new policy in a statement issued Friday, and said he hopes the announcement leads to the eventual passage of the federal DREAM act.

“This is an important and courageous act by President Obama, especially in an election year,” Birgeneau said. “The entire Berkeley community and, most especially, our undocumented students are grateful to him for this humane action.”

For outgoing CalSERVE Senator and undocumented immigrant Ju Hong, Obama’s announcement represents positive action toward a brighter future.

“It’s good news and it’s very significant because a lot of dreamers like myself have lived in fear of facing deportation,” Hong said. “But now, because of this new policy, (we are) more comfortable to come out and (we) can be more focused on family and school.”

Hong also said the component of the policy which allows approved immigrants to apply for work permits will be very beneficial to the illegal immigrant community.

“This work permit will provide an extensive amount of opportunities for dreamers to pay not only for their education, but also support their families who may be undocumented and trying to get a job,” said Hong.

Hong said his only criticism of the policy is the age requirement which disqualifies anyone over 30.

“We still need to consider those who don’t qualify under the policy, and fight for comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “At the same time, it’s a good move because so many dreamers have lost hope, and this policy will give hope and a boost to immigration communities.”