Deferred Action for Undocumented Youth

In the shadows of the failure of the DREAM Act, President Barak Obama has announced a long-anticipated change in immigration policy effective immediately.  The policy is aimed at young immigrants who were brought into the United States illegally by their parents and is estimated to benefit about 800,000 undocumented immigrants.  Eligible immigrants will be granted work authorization and deferred action, also known as deferral of deportation, for a period of two years that is subject to renewal.  In order to qualify for the benefits of this new immigration policy, individuals must meet the following criteria:

1. Have come to the United States before the age of 16 years old

2. Be no older than 30 years old

3. Have maintained continuous residence in the United States for the past five years

4. Be currently enrolled in school, have graduated high school, have a GED, or have served in the military

5. Have not been convicted of a crime

It is important to note that this new policy neither grants undocumented immigrants amnesty nor immunity and is not a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship.  Officials from the Department of Homeland Security are describing the policy as a means to incorporate discretion into immigration law and to shift the focus of enforcement resources to the individuals posing a national security or public safety risk.  Additionally, it is conceivable that a different administration may come into office and withdraw the new regulation.

This new immigration policy has arisen from a push by many Hispanic immigrants for goals similar to the DREAM Act that failed in the U.S. Senate in 2010.  The DREAM Act, also known as the Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors, was first proposed in 2001 with an aim of benefiting the children of undocumented immigrants.  With requirements nearly the same as the new immigration policy, qualified applicants would have been eligible for a six-year conditional status and in-state college tuition.  During the six years, the applicant must complete at least two years in college or in the military and then would be eligible to apply for permanent residence.  Unfortunately, the DREAM Act has yet to be enacted by the federal government but a similar version of the act was passed in California in October 2011.

This immigration reform represents a shift in policy promised by President Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.  However, critics are claiming President Obama strategically introduced the policy in an effort to gain Latino voters for the upcoming presidential election in November.  Others claim the policy bypasses the immigration laws already in place.  Regardless of the criticism, thousands of young undocumented immigrants will be given relief from a life decision made by their parents.  The deferred action is also expected to help with the backlog of cases in the immigration courts, noting that last year had the largest number of deported immigrants in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s history.  Those affected by the new policy have high hopes for immigration reform, but will continue to push for a more comprehensive immigration policy that can broaden the scope of its reach.

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