In a major election year move that will allow President Obama to save face with the pro-migrant wing of the Latino vote (and other communities largely impacted by immigration), the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will stop deporting young folks who are DREAM Act eligible.
The move affects as many as 800,000 people who were brought to the United States as children and have remained here for their education.
According to the Associated Press:
“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 officials who described the plan spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it in advance of the official announcement.
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.”
This policy change comes during a week in which DREAMers have been staging sit-ins in Obama campaign offices asking for an executive order. TIME magazine chose to feature a cohort of undocumented Americans on its cover.
While Latino voters tend to favor President Obama over Mitt Romney, they have not been pleased with how the administration has handled the deportation issue. Earlier this year, a Pew Hispanic Center survey revealed that by more than a two to one ratio, Latinos disapproved of how the administration handled deportations. The Obama administration has set records for deportations; in one term, the Department of Homeland Security has deported more people than in the entire George W. Bush administration.
Because of the President’s harsh record of immigration enforcement, DREAMers are somewhat skeptical of today’s announcement. In a statement, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance said: “By regulation, it will take 60 days for this action [DHS policy change] to go into effect. If it does not go into effect fully after 60 days and provide sufficient protection for undocumented youth, we will resume occupying the offices. We will also have zero tolerance for undocumented youth who enter deportation proceedings in the interim.”
This skepticism largely comes from the failures of implementing the Morton memo, which was supposed to grant Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the ability to use prosecutorial discretion in cases where the undocumented posed no threat. But DREAM eligible youth continued to be deported. Now the Department of Homeland Security has a chance to make good on this new policy change.
It will be interesting to see if Mitt Romney criticizes the President for making this policy change. Criticism from the “tough on immigration crowd” may not pick up as much traction since this policy change was announced on a Friday. But Romney’s continued march to the right on immigration during the primary season where he called Arizona’s SB 1070 a model for the nation and called for self-deportation will make it hard for his campaign not to say anything.