The Obama administration announced Friday that it intends to stop deporting illegal immigrants who entered the country as children, if they meet certain requirements, a move that is sure to appeal to Hispanic voters for his re-election campaign.
Only a handful of Irish are expected to take advantage of the provision as almost all Irish immigrants came as adults. Irish immigrant advocate Ciaran Staunton, President of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform stated that as low as a few dozen would benefit.
Under the new policy, which is effective immediately, illegal immigrants under the age of 30 who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 and pose no criminal or security threat, have performed well in school or served in the military, may be eligible for a two-year deportation deferral, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
The legislation will also allow people who meet these requirements to apply for work permits. Participants must be currently residing in the U.S. and be able to prove that they have lived here for a minimum of five years.
An estimated 800,000 immigrants will benefit from the new policy.
“It is not immunity. It is not amnesty. It is an exercise of discretion to ensure these people are not in the removal process and ensure that we are not clogging the immigration system with low-priority cases involving productive young people,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters Friday morning.
The move has similar provisions to the Democratic proposal called the DREAM Act that failed to win enough Republican support to gain congressional approval.
According to CNN, in 2010, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 396,906 illegal immigrants, the largest number in the agency's history.
Republicans were quick to condemn the announcement.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, called it a "decision to grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants."
"Many illegal immigrants will falsely claim they came here as children and the federal government has no way to check whether their claims are true," Smith said in a statement. "And once these illegal immigrants are granted deferred action, they can then apply for a work permit, which the administration routinely grants 90% of the time."
New York City Comptroller John C. Liu described the policy change as a tremendous milestone.
"Creating paths to citizenship makes economic sense and is most certainly good for New York. President Obama's bold Executive Order recognizes that all young people, with endless potential, need not fear reprisal or deportation merely because of documentation status outside of their control. And, it places within their reach the American Dream. This is truly a historic moment for our nation,” Liu said in a statement.
In keeping with its efforts to enforce our nation’s immigration laws in a firm and sensible manner, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced today that effective immediately, 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 eligible to receive deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and 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.
“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 in each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here,” said Secretary Napolitano.