The Obama administration will stop deporting younger illegal immigrants who have led law-abiding lives in the U.S. and will instead start giving work permits, the Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday.
Although the new action by the administration does not necessarily grant citizenship, it will create some ease for the 800,000 immigrants who would qualify for this program.
Under the new program, children brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 and are younger than 30 qualify. Those immigrants must also have been in the U.S. for five years without a criminal record and have graduated from high school, earned a GED or served in the military. The work permit would be good for two years and can be renewed without limit.
“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” Secretary Janet 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.”
This large shift in U.S. immigration policy bypasses Congress, as it failed to pass the DREAM Act, which sought to allow young illegal immigrants access to citizenship by serving in the military or going to college.
President Obama will deliver remarks at 1:15 p.m. on Friday from the Rose Garden, discussing the new HHS policy. Napolitano will also discuss the new program on Friday at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ annual conference in Orlando, Fla. Mitt Romney is expected to address the group on Tuesday.