“A Huge Step Forward”

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There is no definitive estimate of how many immigrants who entered this country as small children will be affected by President Barack Obama’s declaration Friday nor is there a way to know how many young people living in Queens will benefit from the two-year ban on deportations.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the executive order is part of a general shift by the Obama administration to focus on deporting high-priority undocumented immigrants.

She told the Associated Press, “This grant of deferred action is not immunity. It is not amnesty. It is an exercise of discretion so that these young people are not in the removal system.”

In the Rose Garden, Obama noted that children of illegal immigrants “study in our schools, play in our neighborhoods, befriend our kids, pledge allegiance to our flag. It makes no sense to expel talented young people who are, for all intents and purposes, Americans.”

In the words of Roberto Gonzalez, a leading expert on immigration issues at the University of Chicago, this is “a huge step forward.”

The policy falls short of the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, a piece of legislation currently stalled in Congress.

The change designated by the president will apply to those who arrived in the country before turning 16, who have been in the country for at least five years and are under the age of 30.

In terms of his campaign for re-election, this announcement will be a wash. The Latinos who immediately cheered the decision were most likely going to vote for Obama anyway. The Tea Party and others on the far right who blame illegal immigration for all of the country’s problems were not going to vote for Obama anyway.

What this will do is remove the threat of deportation for hundreds of thousands of young people who entered this country as children with their parents. It will make it easier for them to go to college and qualify for two-year work permits.

This move will allow these immigrants to live without fear. Critics say it’s an “end run” around Congress. Perhaps, but it is also a legal step taken that is consistent with the spirit of this nation.

Posted 7:24 pm, June 20, 2012
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