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Updated: 11:13 a.m.
After years of pushing by Hispanic lawmakers and activists, President Barack Obama is ending the deportation of people who would be eligible for the DREAM Act via executive action.
The move, announced by the Department of Homeland Security, had been urged repeatedly by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and last week, the legislation’s senior Senate advocate, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), told Roll Call the White House was actively considering it.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the new policy, effective immediately, will grant the people eligible for the program renewable, deferred action on their immigration status and the ability to apply for work authorization. In a conference call, Napolitano said she was exercising prosecutorial discretion that is already afforded the department. The DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant children who go to college or join the military, but it has been blocked in Congress.
“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” Napolitano said in a statement. “But 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. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here.”
The order does not grant a path to citizenship and could be rescinded by a new president. But advocates had urged the president to act nonetheless, given that hundreds of thousands of eligible people are now at risk of deportation.
Obama will speak about the executive action this afternoon at the White House.
Administration officials estimated that 800,000 people would be covered by the action. They said that this was an issue of prosecutorial discretion and is not a permanent solution or a substitute for Congressional action.
House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) ripped into the decision.
“President Obama’s decision to grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants is a breach of faith with the American people,” he said.
Smith charged the decision violates the president’s oath to uphold the law and will be a magnet for fraud.
“Many illegal immigrants will falsely claim they came here as children and the federal government has no way to check whether their claims are true,” he said. “And once these illegal immigrants are granted deferred action, they can then apply for a work permit, which the administration routinely grants 90 percent of the time.
“How can the administration justify allowing illegal immigrants to work in the U.S. when millions of Americans are unemployed?”
Obama also is scheduled to hold a reception for LGBT Pride Month — and advocates are jumping on the DREAM order to again urge Obama to act to ban discrimination by federal contractors.
“We’re thrilled that the president has stood with DREAMers across the U.S. today and has finally extended the ‘hope and change’ to them that he promised in 2008,” said Robin McGehee, executive director of GetEQUAL. “And as the president hosts LGBT advocates at the White House today to celebrate LGBT Pride Month, we call on President Obama to issue the executive order that we have been calling for since the beginning of the year.”
Clarification: 11:12 a.m.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the decision. It is an executive action, not an executive order.