President Barack Obama announced today that his administration will no longer deport some illegal immigrants who were brought to this country as children. Details on the policy are after the jump, along with reaction from Senator Tom Harkin, who welcomed the change, and Representative Steve King, who denounced it. At this writing, other Iowa elected officials have not commented publicly on the issue.
The Obama administration has deported undocumented immigrants at a faster rate than its predecessors, but hundreds of thousands of undocumented residents will supposedly be spared the threat of deportation from now on.
The new policy will not grant citizenship to children who came to the United States as illegal immigrants, but will remove the threat of deportation and grant them the right to work in the United States.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the policy change will apply to those who came to the United States before they were 16 and who are younger than 30 if they have lived here for five years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or served in the military.
A memo from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano ordering the "prosecutorial discretion with respect to individuals who came to the United States as children" argued that those covered by the order "only know this country as home." It said these people "lacked the intent to violate the law."
The new policy will apply to individuals who are already in deportation proceedings, the memo said.
The policy change will accomplish portions of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, legislation that has stalled in Congress amid Republican opposition.
The U.S. House approved the DREAM Act in December 2010, but a Republican-led filibuster kept the bill from reaching a vote on the Senate floor. All the Iowa Democrats in Congress voted for the DREAM Act, while all the Iowa Republicans opposed it.
Obama's action looks like a blatant election-year attempt to appeal to the large and growing constituency of Latino voters. He could have enacted this policy years ago, or at least after the U.S. Senate killed the DREAM Act. But I'm glad the president did the right thing today, even if for the wrong reasons.
Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano denied that the announcement was politically motivated. She described today's move as part of a "logical progression" on immigration policy.
"This was a decision out of my office as the secretary of Homeland Security," she told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "It was a decision made after we looked at what we've been doing over the last three years." [...]
"This is a logical progression from a series of decisions that we've made over the last several years to focus immigration enforcement on those who violated the criminal law in addition to the immigration law, those who are repeat violators, those who are recent border crossers," she said. "We need to, in our discretionary authority, defer action against these individuals." [...]
"Instructions have gone out to ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and CVP [Citizenship and Immigration Resources] that they're not to put these young people into removal proceedings," she said.
Immigrants who may qualify for deferred action will be asked to walk into one of these offices and self-report their status, she said.
According to Napolitano, the goal of the policy is to remove the "cloud" hanging over the heads of "a group of young people, brought here through no fault of their own." She said the system would be set up internally so that self-reporters did not implicate family members as undocumented immigrants.
It's more accurate to say that the new policy pushes back the "cloud" hanging over some 800,000 U.S. residents' heads. Eligible undocumented immigrants will receive a two-year deferral to deportation, not a permanent reprieve.
The deferral won't even last two years if Mitt Romney wins the presidential election.
Obama admitted the limitations of the new policy today:
"This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix," Obama said to take on conservative criticism of the step. "This is a temporary stopgap measure." [...]
The change is part of a department effort to target resources at illegal immigrants who pose a greater threat, such as criminals and those trying to enter the country now, Napolitano said, adding it was "well within the framework of existing laws."
Senator Tom Harkin, who voted for the DREAM Act in 2010, issued this press release today:
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today issued the following statement after the Obama Administration announced a new immigration policy modeled after legislation supported by Harkin. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act removes barriers to education for many young immigrants in Iowa and the United States.
Audio of Senator Harkin's remarks from his call with Iowa journalists today on this subject can be found here: http://harkin.senate.gov/docum... .
"I support the Obama Administration on this announcement today. At the heart of this matter is a fundamental issue of human rights and fairness to children who came to this country as a result of their parents' actions. They should not be denied opportunities.
"I have supported legislation in Congress that supports this same goal - legislation that used to have bipartisan support. It remains my hope that we can get the DREAM Act passed over the objection of Congressional Republicans."
Illegal immigration has long been a flashpoint for Representative Steve King, and he threatened to file a federal lawsuit to stop the president "from implementing his unconstitutional and unlawful policy." His office also sent out this statement (emphasis in original):
King: Obama's DREAM Act Executive Order Violates Constitution
Washington, DC - Congressman Steve King released the following statement today in response to President Obama's plan to grant amnesty to an estimated 1 million illegal aliens through an Executive Order implementing the policies of the DREAM Act legislation that Congress has rejected.
"Americans should be outraged that President Obama is planning to usurp the Constitutional authority of the United States Congress and grant amnesty by edict to 1 million illegal aliens," said King. "There is no ambiguity in Congress about whether the DREAM Act's amnesty program should be the law of the land. It has been rejected by Congress, and yet President Obama has decided that he will move forward with it anyway. President Obama, an ex constitutional law professor, whose favorite word is audacity, is prepared to violate the principles of Constitutional Law that he taught.
"The American people have rejected amnesty because it will erode the Rule of Law. In much the same way, I believe the American people will reject President Obama for his repeated efforts to violate the Constitutional separation of powers."