The Obama administration announced Friday it would dramatically shift its immigration policy, implementing a plan that would allow young immigrants who have lived law-abiding lives in the U.S. to avoid deportation and obtain work permits.
"Effective immediately the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people," President Barack Obama said Friday in remarks from the White House Rose Garden.
Before being repeatedly heckled by Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro, who characterized himself as an Irish immigrant as he interrupted the president, Obama added the policy would make U.S. immigration "more fair, more efficient and more just."
"What about American workers who are unemployed by immigrant farmers?" Munro yelled, to which the president replied, "Next time I prefer you let me finish my statements before you ask a question...I didn't ask for an argument."
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed the policy shift in a statement earlier Friday, saying, "Our nation's immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner. 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," she added.
The new policy will be implemented through the Homeland Security Department's exercise of its powers of discretion over bringing prosecutions of immigration violations as laid out in a memo from Napolitano to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The policy will allow immigrant children who came to the U.S. under the age of 16 and who have lived here for at least five years to seek a stay on deportation for two years.
The child needs to have received some education or acted as a member of the military and not have committed any felonies or serious misdemeanors while in the United States. If under the age of 30, the immigrant in question can obtain a work permit.
The White House said the policy in no way opens a gateway to citizenship, something that can only be conferred by Congress. However, Republican lawmakers are already up in arms about the policy change, which they characterize as a weak political ploy.
"The President's action is an affront to the process of representative government by circumventing Congress and with a directive he may not have the authority to execute," Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement. "It seems the President has put election-year politics above responsible policies."
"Americans also deserve to know how this amnesty program for hundreds of thousands of people will be funded, and whether resources for border security and enforcement will be diverted," he added.
Meanwhile, liberal lawmakers see the policy shift as a way to move closer to achieving provisions of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which provides conditional permanent residency to the same group of young immigrants who have studied or been a soldier in the United States.
"In one fell swoop the President has accomplished what far too few Republicans were brave enough to even discuss," Chairman of the Senate Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Judiciary subcommittee Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. "The President has done all he can and it is now up to our colleagues across the aisle to join us in finishing the job and passing the full and undiluted DREAM Act."
Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Patty Murray, D-Wash., also approved of the move, saying, "We absolutely need to keep working toward comprehensive immigration reform that helps our economy, affords the opportunities we have offered to generations of immigrants, maintains our American values, and improves our security."
Additionally, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tweeted, "Congrats to #DREAMers who mobilized and organized for the #right2dream. You helped make this happen. Keep up fight for immigration reform."
Democratic strategists hope the move more firmly demonstrates to Latino voters the importance of the immigration issue for the president. The Latino voting bloc, the fastest growing group in the U.S., is a key support group for the president, especially in the southwest and west and Florida.
"Send me the DREAM Act and I will sign it right away," Obama said in his remarks Friday, saying the bill passed in the House before Republicans "walked away."
He added, "The only thing that changed [since then], apparently, was the politics...There is no reason why we can't come together and get this done."
Obama came under fire after his administration oversaw the most annual deportations ever in 2011, with almost 400,000 people being sent back to their countries of origin.
Obama for America staff, already heavily courting Latino voters with Spanish-language ads and issue campaigns, hope this new policy shift will help clinch the group for the president before November.
by RTT Staff Writer
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