Obama says Deferring Deportation for Students a ‘Stop Gap Measure’

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A Dream Act Student at UT Rally

President Obama emphasized today in a press conference that deferring deportation for thousands of undocumented students and military personnel is only a “stopgap measure” and not a “path to citizenship.”

In his speech from the White House, Obama praised hard working undocumented students and military personnel but made a point that ultimately it’s up to Congress to grant legal status for up to 800,000 immigrants who may qualify under the DREAM Act – legislation that would allow young undocumented students or military personnel to live and work legally in the United States.

“This is not a path to citizenship or a permanent fix. It’s a stopgap measure…in absence of any immigration action from Congress,” said Obama who called for congressional leaders to pass comprehensive immigration reform. “ Six years ago President Bush, Senators McCain and Kennedy championed this reform. There’s no reason why we can’t come together again and get this done.”

The Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin this afternoon explaining in greater detail the new policy change. The take home message: the process could be long and arduous, which is no surprise to anyone who’s dealt with U.S. immigration law.

Loren Campos, 23, a DREAM Act advocate and graduate of UT Austin, watched Obama’s press conference with growing excitement. “I think I qualify under the criteria,” he said. “But I still have a lot of questions.”

Campos said many DREAM Act students are hopeful but apprehensive that Obama’s policy change will be carried out by immigration agency officials. Campos pointed out that immigration directives from the White House often find little traction in the day to day operations of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In 2011, ICE agency director John Morton directed immigration agents to enact “prosecutorial discretion” focusing more on the deportation of criminals instead of undocumented people who had no criminal records. The policy change found little success, however, and is seldom enacted. “We need to be watchful and make sure that it is carried out correctly,” said Campos of Obama’s new directive.

Since early Friday morning social media sites have been flooded with questions about who can qualify and where to apply for the deferral. Some key points to note from DHS’s bulletin this afternoon are the following:

Who is eligible to receive deferred action under the Department’s new directive? 
Pursuant to the Secretary’s June 15, 2012 memorandum, in order to be eligible for deferred action, individuals must:

Have come to the United States under the age of sixteen;

Have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;

Currently be in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;

Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;

Not be above the age of thirty.

Individuals must also complete a background check and, for those individuals who make a request to USCIS and are not subject to a final order of removal, must be 15 years old or older.

 

Here are a few more points also worth mentioning from the DHS bulletin:

 ** Only those individuals who can prove through verifiable documentation that they meet these criteria will be eligible for deferred action

 ** The use of prosecutorial discretion confers no substantive right or pathway to citizenship. Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights.

 ** Under existing regulations, an individual who has been granted deferred action is eligible to receive employment authorization for the period of deferred action, provided he or she can demonstrate “an economic necessity for employment.” Deferred action can be terminated at any time at the agency’s discretion or renewed by the agency.

 

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.