President Obama announced Friday a de facto amnesty for a large class of illegal immigrants, the Associated Press reports:
The Obama administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives. The election-year initiative addresses a top priority of an influential Latino electorate that has been vocal in its opposition to administration deportation policies.
The policy change, described to The Associated Press by two senior administration officials, will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It also bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the so-called DREAM Act, a long-sought but never enacted plan to establish a path toward citizenship for young people who came to the United States illegally but who have attended college or served in the military.
The reaction on Twitter ranged from shock to cynicism and mockery.
“Can this be authentic? It seems impossible under law,” wrote commentator David Frum, who later added: “Well, if you can’t deliver an economic recovery, ethnic politics must be the fallback plan.”
“We need a national conversation about comprehensive immigration reform. Rubio was working to persuade GOP. Obama just undercut that effort,” wrote Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller.
“What’s that? A sweeping executive order that upends three years’ of immigration policy? Must be election year,” wrote BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins.
“But what about the public option, Obama?” asked Sam Stein of the Huffington Post.
In April, when discussing a similar–though legislative–plan proposed by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a White House official insisted Congress would need to address the illegal immigrant issue.
“There is no magic wand. This requires action by Congress,” the White House administration official told the New York Times.
The administration plan will grant work permits to illegal immigrants who entered the country before age 16, are younger than 30, have no criminal history, and have either served in the military or earned a high school or equivalent diploma. The work permits will be two-year permits that can be renewed an indefinite number of times.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano described the move as the “next logical step in our efforts to transform the immigration system.”
“This is not immunity, this is not amnesty,” she told reporters on a conference call. “I believe this action is the right thing to do.”
Napolitano said the policy was “consistent with our existing use of prosecutorial discretion” with respect to immigration enforcement and “well within the framework of our existing laws.”
Senior administration officials told reporters that about 800,000 individuals would potentially benefit from the change in policy. Those who meet the requirement will be granted “deferred action” status—renewable after two years—and would then be eligible to apply for a work permit.
The administration’s decision was based on “executive branch authority as to how we administer the law in a way that makes the most sense,” the officials said, noting that the move “does not alleviate the need for legislation.”
“We need Congress to act,” one official said.