Now that the Obama administration has announced it will grant deferred action to certain young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors, their long-term fate is no longer as precarious as it's been throughout their lives here so far. But that's not to say it's no longer uncertain.
Deferred action is just that: the deferment of removal action, or deportation. It is not a path to permanent legal status, let alone citizenship. Here is how it's described on the Homeland Security website:
Deferred action does not confer lawful status upon an individual. In addition, although an alien granted deferred action will not be considered to be accruing unlawful presence in the United States during the period deferred action is in effect, deferred action does not absolve individuals of any previous or subsequent periods of unlawful presence.
Under existing regulations, an individual who has been granted deferred action is eligible to receive employment authorization for the period of deferred action, provided he or she can demonstrate “an economic necessity for employment.” Deferred action can be terminated at any time at the agency’s discretion or renewed by the agency.
So it's not quite "amnesty" as some critics have posed. Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, calls the move "unconstitutional," saying President Obama "thwarted the will of Congress and shunned the 20 million under- and unemployed Americans."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made the announcement Friday morning. Napolitano said this isn’t amnesty, but rather a move to address a resource issue. “It will continue to help us streamline immigration enforcement and assure that resources are not spent pursuing the removal of low priority cases involving productive young people.”
The move also doesn't "legalize" anyone, as some headlines have misstated.
The process, which has yet to begin and affects 800,000 undocumented youth, will be somewhat complicated — potential beneficiaries, who among other things must have a clean record, have arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and be no older than 30, must apply to be considered. If they meet the criteria, they will then be able to apply for a work permit "provided they can demonstrate an economic necessity for their employment."
Beyond that, it's wide open. The DHS website states that the directive "does not provide an individual with permanent lawful status or a pathway to obtaining permanent lawful status" and that this can only be accomplished through an act of Congress.
Congressional reaction split along party lines. L.A. Democratic Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard of Los Angeles calls it "a long overdue step forward." Democrats like U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer praises the new policy as “the right thing to do.”
President Obama issued a challenge to lawmakers. "Precisely because this is temporary, Congress needs to act." Two years ago, the House passed the Dream Act that would give undocumented young people a path to citizenship. It died in the Senate. Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein from California says Congress should go beyond the Dream Act and address "comprehensive immigration reform.”
In a highly unusual break with decorum, a reporter from the conservative “Daily Caller” interrupted Obama as he outlined the administration's new policy, asking whether the policy change was good for American workers, before being cut off by Obama.
Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles says immigration reform can't be done by just one party and that he hopes some Republicans will be on board. But GOP Congressman Elton Gallegly of Simi Valley says that with national unemployment rates exceeding 8 percent, handing out work permits to undocumented young people is a “direct slap at the American worker.”
Gallegly suggests that the Obama administration overstepped its bounds. “Under the Constitution,” he points out, “it is Congress’ job to create immigration policy and it is the president's job to enforce it.”
Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach calls the president's decision "politically expedient" and sends a message "to every potential illegal immigrant throughout the world that it’s OK to bring their children to the United States and break American law."
The granting of deferred action will be made in two-year increments, to be renewed pending a review of each case after expiration. However, this is up in the air depending on the political winds two years from now, as a change of administration could nullify the entire thing.
On the bright side, young people who are under a final order of deporation may apply for deferred action under the directive, meaning it could spare some from removal at the proverbial last minute. And those who qualify can work, a boon to undocumented college graduates who have had trouble finding adequate employment.
Homeland Security has posted a list of FAQs along with a hotline number that people can call beginning Monday; the DHS site notes that requests aren't to be submitted yet, as the application process still isn't in effect.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has proposed giving permanent residency to these undocumented young people. Secretary Napolitano urged Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would grant full citizenship.
This story has been updated.