The Obama Administration announced Friday that nearly 100,000 “dreamers” – undocumented children who grew up here – won’t face deportation but be offered at least temporary safe harbor in the United States, bringing reaction from all sides on an issue that has long vexed the nation and Congress, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.
Speaking to reporters from the White House Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama said the Department of Homeland Security would immediately adopt a set of guidelines that would allow the children of illegal immigrants to stay in the United States in many cases.
Called “Dreamers,” for the “Dream Act” proposals that have sought to provide a path to college for “American” children of undocumented immigrants, the group includes children and young adults who came to the United States before they turned 16 and consider their adopted country home. Many, in fact, do not remember living in their native country and have forgotten or never acquired the language of their parents.
In the meantime, they have grown up going to U.S. schools, working in U.S. jobs and sometimes fighting in U.S. wars, all the while facing potential deportation because their parents brought them into the country illegally.
“They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds and in every other way but one, on paper,” Obama said.
The directive gives immigration officials the right to focus their attentions elsewhere without actually changing the law. The rule sets out a number of criteria, limiting the protections to people under 30 who were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16. To qualify, they must also have been enrolled in school, lived at least five consecutive years in the country and have no criminal record.
Congress has been wrangling over the Dream Act for several years but has failed to act, Obama said Friday, in explaining in part why the administration was stepping in. Earlier Friday, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the change in policy, which can go into effect without congressional approval.
Reaction to the new rule and Obama’s announcement was immediate.
“Today’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short term answer to a long term problem,” Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. “And by once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long term one.”
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, agreed.
“If I’m president, we’ll do our very best to have that long-term solution,” Romney told reporters during a campaign stop in New Hampshire. “An executive order is, of course, just a short-term matter that can be reversed by subsequent presidents.”
Interviewed by “The Hill” newspaper, U.S. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) said he’s concerned that the effort could be used as a “backdoor” to ultimately allow non-citizens to vote, either this fall or in the future.
“How far down the rabbit hole will it go?” West asked.
Other groups offered unequivocal support.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials praised the move for recognizing the contributions of immigrants to improve their adopted home.
“The Administration’s directive recognizes that law-abiding immigrant youth who are currently in school, or have completed their high school education or served in the military and meet several other key criteria should be provided protection from removal and the ability to seek gainful employment in the United States,” the group said.