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Deportations Of Law-Abiding, Younger Illegal Immigrants To Stop

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Mandel Ngan
AFP/Getty Images
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

The Obama administration announced today that it will stop deporting younger illegal immigrants who came to the country as children and have no criminal history.

"It is not immunity; it is not amnesty. It is an exercise of discretion," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said during a press briefing.

Essentially, the administration is using its prosecutorial discretion to defer action and allow those people to apply for job permits. This is important, because it means that it can be reversed or altered by any president. That means Obama can do it or Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney could reverse it if he wins in November.

According to the AP:

"The administration's decision will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants. Two senior administration officials described the plan on condition of anonymity ahead of its expected announcement Friday.

"Illegal immigrants will avoid deportation and be eligible for work permits if they arrived in the U.S. before age 16, 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."

As NPR's Corey Dade wrote earlier this week on It's All Politics, previously supportive groups have been highly critical in recent weeks of what they see as up-to-now a failed effort by the administration to reduce the deportations of otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants.

Update at 4:48 p.m. ET. Romney Statement:

The Romney campaign has now issued a statement. It reads in part:

"I'd like to see legislation that deals with this issue, and I happen to agree with Marco Rubio as he looked at this issue. He said that this is an important matter, that we have to find a long-term solution, but that the president's action makes reaching a long-term solution more difficult. If I'm president, we'll do our very best to have that kind of long-term solution that provides certainty and clarity for the people who come into this country through no fault of their own by virtue of the action of their parents."

Rubioissued a statement earlier today, saying that while there is broad agreement that this issue needs to be resolved, this move by Obama " will make harder to achieve in the long run."

Update at 4:07 p.m. ET. Romney Says This Is Not The Way To Go:

NPR's Evie Stone, who's traveling with the Romney campaign, tells us that Romney has responded to Obama's move.

"Romney said something has to be done about young people who came to the country through no fault of their own," Evie reports. "but this is not the way to do it because it's short term."

Update at 3:25 p.m. ET. On The Politics:

NPR's Liz Halloran talked to Darry Sragow, a lawyer and longtime Democratic strategist based in Los Angeles. Sragow said this move puts the Romney camp in a difficult position. Sragow said:

"Romney's got to make a choice," Sragow says. "His base is not going to like what the president just did. But he can't win in November by tacking hard to the right. The Romney campaign is going to have to sit there with a calculator and consider the costs and benefits of throwing a bone to the Republican base."

Update at 3:18 p.m. ET. Obama Interrupted:

Just a quick note that we've added a post talking about the reporter who interrupted President Obama.

Update at 2:16 p.m. ET. Obama Says 'It's The Right To Do':

During a statement in the Rose Garden, President Obama said taking this step is simply "the right thing to do."

"It's the right thing to do for our economy; it's the right thing to do for our security, and it's the right thing to do period," the president said.

President Obama said that this is not "amnesty" and not "immunity."

"This is a temporary stop gap measure that helps us focus our resources wisely," said Obama. "Precisely because this is temporary, Congress needs to act."

At one point, Obama asked Americans to put themselves in the shoes of young illegal immigrants. He asked them to imagine doing everything right — going to school, graduating — only to face the threat of deportation.

"They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every way but one," he said.

Update at 12:59 p.m. ET. A Big Step, But Not Permanent:

"This is a bold step that shows leadership by President Obama," Laura Vazquez, of the National Council of La Raza, tells our Newscast unit. Vazquez said the move provides immediate relief "and lifts a cloud from the young people who are here; they're contributing to their communities; they're American in every sense of the word and now they can continue their contribution without the fear of immediate deportation."

But Vazquez says NCLR will continue pushing for immigration reform, mainly the Dream Act, which would extend permanent residency to young immigrants.

"This is a huge step," Vazquez said. "But we certainly know this is not a permanent solution."

Update at 12:25 p.m. ET. Precedent Is 'Troubling':

Israel Ortega of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, says his first concern about this announcement is "for the president's penchant for going around the legislative process."

"In many ways this is the president going around [Congress] because he didn't get his way a couple of years ago with the Dream Act," Ortega told our Newscast unit. "So the precedent that this continues to set on immigration is troubling."

Ortega also called this a political move on Obama's part.

"This is obviously a move to shore up the Latino, Hispanic support for the election," Ortega said. "He knows that he continues to be the president who has deported the most number of immigrants in this country so this is a move to kind of stymie that argument."

Update at 11:46 a.m. ET. U.S. 'Lives Up To Its Ideals':

Jose Antonio Vargas, the former The Washington Post reporter who made a splash last year after he "came out" as an undocumented immigrant in a piece forThe New York Times.

Since then he started a project called Define American with hopes that other illegal immigrants would share their stories.

In a blog post, today, Vargas wrote:

"Today our country embraces upwards of one million young new Americans: DREAMers.

"They grew up here, they were educated here and they have so much to give back to the country they call home. With a stroke of President Obama's pen, our country lives up to its ideals and finds a fair and pragmatic solution, ending the nightmare of a generation of young people who are Americans in all but documents."

Vargas came to the United States as a child. On Twitter, he said that this executive action does not apply to him. He is 31.

Update at 11:35 a.m. ET. Does Not Replace Legislation:

NPR's Liz Halloran tells us that after Napolitano gave her on-the-record statement, two unnamed "senior administration officials" answered questions from reporters.

Liz reports:

"Perhaps the most salient query: Why would these young people come forward and present themselves to the government without a guarantee of a work permit, and with the uncertainty of who may be occupying the White House come November? What would happen under a Romney administration?

"The officials acknowledged that Friday's DHS action falls under the executive decision-making purview of the president, and that the executive branch can always change its mind on prosecutorial discretion.

"'This doesn't alleviate the need for legislation,' an official said. 'We need Congress to act to provide a pathway for these people. We're saying it doesn't not make any sense to spend resources on these people.'

"'Deferred action is available for two years. We don't consider it a permanent solution,' an official said.

So, again, another reporter asked, why would they come forward?

"Because they want to work," an official replied, noting that the DHS should not be viewed as encouraging people to come forward, just as "making a process available."

When pressed about how state immigration laws, including the tough Arizona measures now under high court review, would affect the federal policy, the officials were pointed.

"The federal government alone makes the decision on who to remove," the official said. "Nothing in any state law is going to impact this announcement" or its enforcement.

Update at 11:15 a.m. ET. "It Is Not Immunity, It Is Not Amnesty," Napolitano Says.

NPR.org's Liz Halloran passes along some of what Napolitano had to say during the conference call with reporters:

-- The changes will allow DHS to concentrate immigration enforcement resources on those in the country illegally who are a "danger to national security or a risk to public safety," she said, and not on "productive young people," many of whom "have already contributed to our country in significant ways."

-- Deferring immigration enforcement action for young people who are low enforcement priorities, Napolitano said, does not provide any individual with permanent lawful status. "It is not immunity, it is not amnesty. It is an exercise of discretion" that will streamline immigration enforcement and ease the burden on immigration courts, she said.

-- The procedures outlined by the DHS would allow those who seek out and are granted deferred action to apply for permits that would allow them to work legally. The administration estimates that about 800,000 young people may be eligible for deferred action.

Update at 10:45 a.m. ET. It's The DREAM Act:

As the Miami Herald's Naked Politics blog points out, "in yet another sign that Hispanics are key in presidential politics, President Barack Obama's ... will stop deporting and grant work permits to nearly 1 million immigrants who entered or remained in the United States illegally as children and would be eligible for the DREAM Act, which is stalled in Congress amid election-year gridlock and competing proposals."

Update at 10:10 a.m. ET. Obama To Speak:

The White House says the president will have some things to say about this news at 1:15 p.m. ET.

Update at 10 a.m. ET. Confirmed:

The White House just sent reporters a statement saying, in part:

"Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano today announced that effective immediately, certain young people who were brought to the United States as young children, do not present a risk to national security or public safety, and meet several key criteria will be considered for relief from removal from the country or from entering into removal proceedings. Those who demonstrate that they meet the criteria will be eligible to receive deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and will be eligible to apply for work authorization. ...

"Under this directive, individuals who demonstrate that they meet the following criteria will be eligible for an exercise of discretion, specifically deferred action, on a case-by-case basis:

"1. Came to the United States under the age of 16;

"2. Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;

"3. Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;

"4. Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;

"5. Are not above the age of 30. ...

"While this guidance takes effect immediately, USCIS and ICE expect to begin implementation of the application processes within 60 days. In the meantime, individuals seeking more information on the new policy should visit USCIS's website (at www.uscis.gov), ICE's website (at www.ice.gov), or DHS's website (at www.dhs.gov). Beginning Monday, individuals can also call USCIS' hotline at 1-800-375-5283 or ICE's hotline at 1-888-351-4024 during business hours with questions or to request more information on the forthcoming process."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.