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June 15, 2012




Some young illegal immigrants in the United States could get relief from deportation under a dramatic policy changed announced Friday by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

The election-year move amounts to President Barack Obama’s administration essentially enacting a version of the Dream Act, legislation that Congress has been deadlocked on for years. It appears intended to help the president excite Latino voters frustrated over lack of progress on immigration reform and the Obama administration’s previous aggressive deportation policy in advance of what could be a tough election against Republican Mitt Romney, who has said as president he would veto the Dream Act.

The policy change comes before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision on the legality of Arizona’s tough 2010 immigration law known as Senate Bill 1070.

Effective immediately, undocumented immigrants who can prove they came to the country under the age of 16 and already have lived here at least five consecutive years. The young people who might be allowed to stay cannot be older than 30 and must be either still in school or graduated from high school or obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, the Homeland Security Department announced.

The policy change also would extend to young immigrants who are honorably discharged military and Coast Guard veterans. It would not apply to undocumented immigrants with felony or egregious misdemeanor criminal records or who "otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety," the department said.

The "deferred action" lasts for two years.

"Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner," Napolitano said in her announcement. "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."

Frank Jannuzi of Amnesty International’s Washington office, applauded Obama’s "steps to relieve the plight of undocumented children and their uncertain futures," but noted that the relief isn’t permanent.

"Immigrant children and their families, and the country as a whole, deserve a permanent solution, not tomorrow or after the election, but right now," Jannuzi said. "Amnesty International urges Congress to pass the 2011 version of the Dream Act as well as address other urgent issues facing migrant communities and undocumented individuals."

But U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., decried the development as "an election-year backdoor amnesty plan."

"This thinly veiled political ploy is detrimental to Arizonans who are already struggling to find jobs and will now have to compete with illegal immigrants," Schweikert said in a statement. "While President Obama asks the Department of Homeland Security to ‘look the other way,’ I ask him to respect the rule of law, and get back to focusing on putting 23 million unemployed Americans back to work."

Speaking on CNN on Friday, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known as a fierce critic of illegal immigration, said the Obama administration’s policy change was "all politics."

"The one thing good about this is I hope it generates some interest, with the people, and with the Congress, so next year they’ll do something," Arpaio said in the TV interview. "Very simple. If they want to change the law, that’s OK with me. I enforce the laws. If they’re not there, I don’t have to enforce them. But I am going to continue to enforce all these illegal -immigration laws and I’m not too concerned about the 1070, whatever they (the Supreme Court) come out with, because we’ve been doing it anyway."

Two hotlines will be up starting Monday. Anyone seeking more information can call U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at 1-800-375-5283 or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at 1-888-351-4024 during business hours. An application process is expected to be set up within two months.

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