Stressing that it is neither amnesty, immunity nor a "path to citizenship," President Obama on Friday announced a temporary policy providing a two-year deferral from deportation for young illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. before the age of 16 and meet several other requirements.
The deportation deferral policy is intended to apply to young illegal immigrants who entered the United States with their parents or other adults. Children born to illegal immigrants while already in the U.S. are automatically classified as American citizens under the 14th Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in its 1897 U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark decision.
In a memorandum issued Friday, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano authorized U.S. immigration officials to grant a renewable, two-year deferral from deportation for illegal immigrants who pose no security risk and:
- Are not above the age of 30;
- Were under age 16 when they came to the United States;
- Have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years;
- Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate (GED), or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
- 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.
Illegal immigrants meeting all of the requirements for deferral of deportation will also be eligible to apply for authorization to work legally in the United States.
"This memorandum confers no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship," noted Sec. Napolitano. "Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights."
In her memorandum, Sec. Napolitano noted that while U.S. immigration laws must be strongly and sensible enforced, "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. Indeed, many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways."
"These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they're friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag," stated President Obama in his speech announcing the new policy. "They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents -- sometimes even as infants -- and often have no idea that they're undocumented until they apply for a job or a driver's license, or a college scholarship."
Citing the failure of Congress to enact immigration reform legislation, Obama stressed that his new policy represented only "stopgap measure."
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"Now, let's be clear -- this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people," said the President. "It is the right thing to do."
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Photo: President Obama - White House Photos