Following an unsuccessful push for the Dream Act in 2010, immigrants rights activists won a major victory today when President Obama announced that his administration will halt deportations of undocumented youth.Undocumented immigrants who were under the age of 16 when they came to the United States, have lived in the country for at least five years and are under the age of 30 will be able to remain in the country and apply for work permits, according to a memo from the Department of Homeland Security. As many as 800,000 young people will be eligible for work permits as a result of the president’s announcement. Previously, many of them were living in constant fear of deportation.
“They pledge allegiance to our flag,” Obama said during the press conference. “They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”The Dream Act is a piece of legislation first proposed in 2001 which would have granted conditional permanent residency to undocumented students who arrived in the United States as minors and had graduated from American high schools. The Dream Act was passed by the House of Representatives in 2010 but failed in the Senate. The president cited inaction by Congress as justification for his action.“I’ve said time and time again to Congress, send me the Dream Act, put it on my desk, and I will sign it right away,” Obama told the press.Administration officials insist, however, that today’s announcement does not mean that they are granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants.“It is not amnesty,” Secretary Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told reporters. “It is an exercise in discretion so that these young people are not in the removal system. It will help us to continue to streamline immigration enforcement and ensure that resources are not spent pursuing the removal of low-priority cases involving productive young people.”Republicans have quickly gone on the attack following the announcement. They are accusing Obama of overstepping presidential authority by working around Congress on this issue. Many also allege that this action will become a backdoor for more undocumented immigrants living in this country to receive amnesty, and could weaken efforts to stop illegal immigration.Meanwhile, many advocates have hailed the announcement as long overdue. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D‑Ill.), who has criticized the president in the past on this issue, called the announcement a “tremendous first step.” Sen. Dick Durbin (D‑Ill.) said , “This action will give these young immigrants their chance to come out of the shadows and be part of the only country they’ve ever called home.”The move has many political implications heading into this fall’s presidential election. Latino voters are seen as an important demographic, one that both the president and his challenger, Mitt Romney, are actively courting. Today’s announcement draws a distinct line between the two candidates, as Romney has maintained he would have vetoed the Dream Act had it reached his desk if he were president. A poll released earlier this month showed Romney trailing Obama by 43 percentage points among Latino voters. Today’s announcement will surely only add more support to the Obama camp.For those working for the rights of immigrants in this country, the president’s announcement is seen as a major victory.“We feel that that what we have been doing for the past couple of years has really come to fruition,” Gaby Pacheco, an undocumented advocate for immigration reform, told the Huffington Post. “A community has been able to organize and speak out, and the president has responded.”