In a major policy shift with potential electoral implications, the Obama administration announced Friday that the Department of Homeland Security would no longer seek the deportation of most young illegal immigrants.
Under the new policy, undocumented immigrants will be immune from deportation if (AP) they were brought to the United States before the age of sixteen and are currently under age of thirty; have been in the country for at least five continuous years; have no criminal history; and have graduated from a U.S. high school, earned a GED, or served in the U.S. military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limit on how many times it can be renewed.
The shift accomplishes many of the legislative intentions of the DREAM Act, President Barack Obama’s immigration reform bill that has been stalled in Congress. However, the White House emphasized that the policy shift is not amnesty or a permanent fix, saying immigration reform legislation is still needed (Reuters).
Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney accused President Obama of playing politics Sunday (CBS), but did not say he would undo the new immigration policy if elected.
On Friday, Romney told reporters in New Hampshire that he supports Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fl) immigration reform proposal (Politico), which has yet to be introduced in the Senate and may stall out after Obama’s move last week (Reuters).
At TIME, Massimo Calabresi says President Obama’s announcement left the Romney campaign between a rock and a hard place. “The first instinct of any politician in a tight race would be to attack his opponent. But if Romney opposed Obama’s move to abandon deportation and prosecution of some young illegal immigrants he could enrage Latinos,” Calabresi writes.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake say every decision made by a president with only months to go before a reelection bid is political. “That’s why Obama was politically smart to do what he did on Friday and why Romney’s smartest strategy is to pivot away from immigration and back to the state of the economy as fast as he can,” they write.
CNN’s Ruben Navarrette Jr. argues the policy change doesn’t make up for the already sizable number of deportations that have been carried out under Obama’s watch, and may not sway voters in November for whom immigration is an important issue.
For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Tracker on The Candidates and Immigration.
Suggested Other Reading:
This CFR Backgrounder looks at the current immigration debate and the political polarization that surrounds it.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center, up to 1.4 million children and young adults who are in the United States illegally could potentially benefit from the change in the Obama administration’s deportation policy.
– Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor