WASHINGTON (CN) – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will temporarily defer deportation of young undocumented immigrants whom President Barack Obama called “Americans in every single way but one, on paper.”
The deferments, which apply to individuals brought to the United States before they were 16, last for two years, are renewable and allow recipients to seek authorization to work.
In a live appearance, Obama asked Americans to put themselves in the place of young people brought to this country as children, who have “done everything right … only to suddenly face deportation to a country they you nothing about, with a language you may not even speak.”
Referring to the refusal of the U.S. Senate to pass his Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Obama said it made no sense to punish young people for “the actions of their parents or the inaction of politicians.”
In contrast he noted that the deportation of criminal immigrants had increased by 80 percent under his administration.
Earlier this morning Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued a formal directive to the directors of Immigration Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, specifying who is eligible for the case-by-case deferments.
To qualify, undocumented immigrants must be under the age of 30, have arrived in the U.S. before they were 16, and lived here continuously for the last five years. In addition they must either have graduated from high school, be enrolled in school, received a G.E.D. or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. military.
Otherwise eligible immigrants who have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors offenses, or who otherwise are determined to a pose a risk to the security of the U.S., will be disqualified.
Napolitano called the change an exercise in prosecutorial discretion to focus enforcement of immigration on high-priority cases.
“As a general matter, these individuals lacked the intent to violate the law and our ongoing review of pending removal cases is already offering administrative closure to many of them,” Napolitano said in a statement. “However, additional measures are necessary to ensure that our enforcement resources are not expended on these low priority cases but are instead appropriately focused on people who meet our enforcement priorities.”
She also noted that the change in no way represented a pathway to citizenship or permanent legal status.
Obama emphasized this point in his public remarks, saying the change was “not amnesty, not immunity, not a path to citizenship, not a permanent fix, but a stop-gap measure.”
Because the measure is temporary, Obama said that Congress still had time to pass the Dream Act so that the 800,000 or so eligible immigrants could plan their life beyond the next two years.
The change in policy is effective immediately. Napolitano’s directive said it applied to individuals who are “encountered” immigration and border-enforcement officials, as well as those who are currently in deportation proceedings, or scheduled to begin such proceedings.