WASHINGTON (CBS NEWS/AP/CBSDFW.com) - Effective immediately, the Obama administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives.
The election-year initiative addresses a top priority of an influential Latino electorate that has been vocal in its opposition to administration deportation policies.
The policy change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation.
It also 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.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the new policy Friday, one week before President Obama plans to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ annual conference in Orlando, Fla.
Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney is scheduled to speak to the group on Thursday.
“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” Napolitano said in a statement. “But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here.”
Mr. Obama planned to discuss the new policy Friday afternoon from the White House Rose Garden.
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 younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or 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.
The policy will not lead toward citizenship but will remove the threat of deportation and grant the ability to work legally, leaving eligible immigrants able to remain in the United States for extended periods.
Susy Solis & Jason Allen report:
Every day, when a Dallas 24-year-old leaves his home from work, he says he kisses his wife and daughters goodbye, knowing its possible he might not make it home.
“You literally live every day like it’s your last one, and that’s not a good way to live,” he said.
His parents moved him to the United States when he was just three-years-old. He has an apartment, and runs part of a landscape business with 100 clients. His lack of documentation though had him planning to head to Mexico next month in an effort to pursue legal status.
After the announcement Friday, he’s not planning to make the trip anymore.
“This gives us that breathing room where I can provide for them the way I know I can and excel without any limits,” he said.
With Texas being so close to the Mexican border, many of the 800,000 affected immigrants will be in the state. Some of those attend –– or will attend –– Texas colleges, even with the knowledge that finding work in the country will be difficult after procuring a diploma.
Jose Moreno, 22, is a student at the University of Texas at Arlington. He’s been living a life of uncertainty, having been brought to America by his parents when he was just two-years-old.
In December, he will graduate. He’s been volunteering at an office maintaining its website because he can’t legally be paid. He hopes Friday’s announcement will change that.
“It also weighs heavily when you’re trying to study and you’re telling yourself, ‘Why am I even going to continue studying if once I get my degree, which is just a piece of paper, and I won’t be able to do anything with it?,’” he asked. “It’s hard to stay focused.”
Before today’s ruling, Moreno had no chance of finding work. He’s still tentatively optimistic, though –– many students won’t believe the ruling until they have a work permit in their hands.
Texas Political Reaction
Quickly planned rallies popped up around Dallas following the announcement Friday. A small group gathered at the campaign headquarters of congressional candidate Domingo Garcia.
Immigration advocate Ralph Isenberg though expressed caution.
“If all 800,000 want to follow the pied piper, you’re going to come to a dead end, because he doesn’t promise you, anything,” he said.
Isenberg was referring to the President’s statement that the police change is not immunity or a path citizenship. His Isenberg Center for Immigration Empowerment helps foreign nationals with immigration problems and he supports the President. He is not convinced the President has the authority to uphold the change though, or withstand a challenge from congress.
Shortly after the announcement, Gov. Rick Perry released a statement calling the ruling a “election-year tactic to bypass Congress and arbitrarily grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants.
Here’s the full statement from the governor:
“The Obama Administration’s election-year tactic to bypass Congress and arbitrarily grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants is another example of its blatant disregard for our Constitution, our rule of law and our democratic process.
The laws of this nation are not open to selective, convenient or political interpretation; they are the very foundation of our freedom, and the protections they guarantee make our nation strong and attractive to immigrants around the world – millions of whom abide by our laws and processes and seek legal entry. These are decisions that should be thoroughly debated within the halls of Congress.
This Administration has failed to provide a secure border, which is essential to national security, and is instead granting blanket amnesty to those who have broken our laws. Failed border security and immigration policies have created a magnet for those who came in the first place. It’s clear President Obama prefers to upend the rule of law, picking winners and losers, rather than work with Congress and the American people on a sustainable, long-term solution.”
Congressman Michael Burgess (R –– Lewisville) also released a similar statement, saying the ruling does nothing to alleviate the pressure on the millions of unemployed Americans.
Here’s his full statement:
“With over 12 million Americans unemployed, President Obama showed that he is not concerned with policies that will put them back to work. Instead, he wants to put illegal immigrants ahead of the rule of law and provide them with work permits. This is not only a reckless decision, but one that will continue to block opportunities for American citizens to find employment. I urge the president to stop supporting amnesty and to stop creating policy that will continue to make it harder for Americans to find work.”
(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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