It isn’t immunity, and it isn’t amnesty, but the Obama administration’s latest immigration policy is a big turning point for illegal immigrants in the United States. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano released a memo this morning outlining criteria that will exempt certain undocumented immigrants from immediate deportation.
According to the memo, individuals who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 and who have lived in the States for at least five years will be granted a two-year deferral from deportation, as well as the right to apply for a work permit. The policy only extends to individuals under the age of 30 who were successful students or served in the military.
While this policy does not form a direct path to citizenship or permanent residency, it allows young immigrants to live, study, and work in the U.S. without threat of deportation -- an opportunity that New America Emerson Fellow Alexandra Starr calls “transformative.” Last month, Starr wrote a piece for The Atlantic outlining the challenges undocumented entrepreneurs have faced under past immigration policy. Starr says this policy shift could fuel trade with Latin America, allowing business-oriented immigrants to “use a bicultural and oftentimes bilingual heritage in ways that can really benefit the U.S. economy.”
This afternoon, President Obama formally announced the new policy at the Rose Garden. He stressed his support for the DREAM Act, and his belief that this new policy is a necessary measure until Congress joins him in supporting the Act. “This is a temporary stop-get measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people,” he said, asserting that it’s simply “the right thing to do.”
Among Republicans, the new policy has received criticism for being "law-breaking" and "unfair". Republican candidate Mitt Romney acknowledged the importance of the issue, but called this policy decision a short-term fix. "I think this action that this president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution," he told reporters in New Hampshire, "because an executive order is of course just a short-term matter."
Last week, Delve reported Obama’s 43-point lead on Romney among Latino voters. Will this important policy decision put him even further ahead? Check back with Delve to stay up-to-date on the latest campaign trends.