(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
President Barack Obama officially announced Friday his administration's intent to implement sweeping federal changes to U.S immigration law that will allow many young people living in the U.S. without proper documentation to gain temporary legalized status through employment.
Obama said during his remarks that "it makes no sense" to expel talented young people who for all intents and purposes are Americans who want to staff our labs, serve in our Army, simply because of the actions of their parents or inactions of politicians.
"Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people," he added.
Before Obama made the announcement today, senior members of his staff had shared with The Associated Press that the new policy will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who would have to be deported under current U.S. law.
"Many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who initially announced the plans. "Prosecutorial discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here."
Galen Carey, vice president of Government Relations for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), welcomed the immigration reform announcement. Carey told The Christian Post that "the government will no longer deport otherwise law-abiding children of undocumented immigrants." He admitted that there was still a lot of work to be done to allow undocumented immigrants the opportunity to pursue permanent legalized status in the U.S.
"We need to have secure borders, we need to have a workable legal immigration system so that families can be reunited in a prompt way, and there needs to be a plan for providing a legal status to those who are here, providing a path for citizenship and an opportunity for them to come out of the shadows," Carey said in a phone interview with CP on Friday about what else the government needs to do to change immigration policy in the country.
The policy is expected to come into immediate effect, and it provides provisions for people who entered the United States before they turned 16, but are currently younger than 30, and have lived in America continuously for the past five years. They must also have no criminal history, and must have graduated from a U.S. high school, earned a GED, or served in the military.
Undocumented immigrants who meet those qualifications will be allowed to apply for temporary two-year permits that will allow them to live and work legally in the U.S., but those permits can be renewed indefinitely. It is not yet known, however, how this would affect those who continuously apply for such extensions and reach an old age when they can no longer work, since the new reforms do not provide a path for actual citizenship.
"I think that's one of many questions we don't really know the details on yet, but the key point is that this is only a temporary solution, it doesn't provide anyone with the long-term solution that they need to really secure their lives," Carey explained. "But it's much better than knowing that tomorrow morning, they might be deported."
Carey shared that only Congress can really provide a path for citizenship, and the White House can only do what it can with the administrative discretion that it holds.
"It really is the responsibility of Congress to enact permanent reform," he said. "Even on the administrative level, the administration cannot guarantee that everyone who applies will be accepted. It really relies on the officer who is making the determination. It is a discretional relief, it is not a categorical relief."
NAE President Leith Anderson also commented on President Obama's immigration reform, saying in a press release:
"This new policy is good news for America and is good news for undocumented young adults who came to America through the choice of others. It is the right thing to do. I hope that the Congress will quickly follow with a just and compassionate reform of our entire system of immigration. Our country has already waited a long time to get our immigration laws fixed. This is an encouraging first step."
The new policy is likely to affect a notable portion of the U.S. Latino population, and comes a week before President Obama addresses the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials' annual conference in Orlando, Fla.
The Hispanic vote could play a very important role in the presidential elections later this year between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, who clinched his party's nomination last month. Swing-states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida, which at times have been burdened by the administration's deportation policy, might prompt some people to look at Obama in a more favorable light, observers have noted.