The Obama administration today announced that undocumented youth under the age of 30 who meet certain criteria will not be deported, effective immmediately.
"Today we take an important step to mend our nation's immigration policy," said President Barack Obama from the Rose Garden. He continued, "to make it more fair, efficient and just."
To a reporter with an online conservative news site, according to CNN, who interrupted the president's speech, Obama replied, "Here's why: These young people will make extraordinary contributions to our American society."
This change in immigration policy affects the "DREAMers," advocates of the legislation that sought to create a way for certain young people brought to the United States as young children to stay and get the opportunity to work. However, the "deferred action" will not give them a path toward citizenship.
"Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner," said Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. "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 criteria to qualify includes that they:
- Came to the United States under the age of 16
- Have lived in the U.S. for a least five years
- Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States
- Have not been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor offense, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety
- Are not above the age of 30
"This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship," Obama said.
According to the administration, if they meet these several key criteria they could receive relief from removal from the country for a period of two years or from entering into removal proceedings.
"Today our country embraces upwards of one million young new Americans: DREAMers," said journalist and immigration advocate Jose Antonio Vargas, a former Mountain View resident who arrived illegally to the U.S. at the age of 12. "They grew up here, they were educated here and they have so much to give back to the country they call home. With a stroke of President Obama's pen, our country lives up to its ideals and finds a fair and pragmatic solution, ending the nightmare of a generation of young people who are Americans in all but documents."
Vargas, 31, does not qualify for this deferred action and acknowledges that "the journey is far from over for the remaining millions of undocumented Americans like me."
"But this is a big, bold and necessary step in the road to citizenship," said the alum. featured him in its most recent cover.
The announcement however, does give Mandeep Chahal who graduated from and now attends UC Davis. She and dozens others in Mountain View schools now can remain without fear.
"I'm so incredibly happy, it's a big step but it's not there yet," said Susan Sweeley, a member of the Board of Trustees for the and mentor to Vargas. "These kids can now go to college and get a job. I'm happy for the hope."
While some call Obama's decision "election year politics" as he tries to win the Latino vote, Sweeley believes those comments "belittle" the occassion.
"It's such a monumental day, even if it's just a step," she said.