President Obama Speaks from White House Rose Garden on Decision to Provide Protection from Deportation and Work Authorization for DREAM Act Children
--Updated on Friday, June 15, 2012, at 4:31 pm EDT--
By Micheal E. Hill
Friday, June 15, 2012 -- 2:55 pm EDT
President Obama today announced his decision to provide protection from removal and work authorization for undocumented aliens who are under the age of 30 and who were brought to the United States before they were 16 years-old. The President's remarks were made on the afternoon of Friday, June 15, 2012, from the White House Rose Garden. He did not take questions from reporters afterward.
In remarks lasting just under nine minutes, the President said his actions will "mend our nation's immigration policy to make it more fair, more efficient, and more just." He said that the policy will help "young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they are friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one; on paper."
President Obama said of the DREAM Act children that his new policy will protect, "it makes no sense to expel talented young people who, for all intents and purposes are Americans. They have been raised as Americans, understand themselves to be part of this country." He said that "to expel these young people who want to staff our labs or start new businesses or defend our country simply because of the actions of their parents or because of the inaction of politicians, in the absence of any immigration action from Congress to fix our immigration system, what we've tried to do is focus our immigration enforcement resources in the right places. So we have prioritized border security, putting more boots on the Southern border than at any time in our history. Today there are fewer illegal crossings than at any time in the past forty years. We have focused and used discretion about whom to prosecute, focusing on criminals who endanger our communities rather than students who are earning their education, and today, deportation of criminals is up 80 percent." He said, "we have improved on that discretion carefully and thoughtfully."
Description of Relief
Answering those who will criticize his decision, President Obama said, "[t]his is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It is not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus on resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people. It is the right thing to do." Continuing, the President said, [p]recisely because this is temporary, Congress needs to act. There is still time for Congress to pass the DREAM Act this year because these kids deserve to plan their lives in more than two year increments. And we still need to pass comprehensive immigration reform that addresses our 21st century economic and security needs."
President Obama was political at times during his remarks, blaming Senate Republicans for blocking the DREAM Act in 2010 and chiding them for failing to support comprehensive immigration reform during the last four years, even though a number of them supported it previously. In a bizarre twist, a reporter from The Daily Caller who had a temporary White House press pass actually heckled the President while he spoke, shouting questions at him while he was in mid-sentence and then shouting loud, opinion-driven questions at him immediately following his remarks.
As a technical matter, undocumented aliens receiving temporary relief pursuant to President Obama's decision will still be in the United States illegally. Those who demonstrate that they meet the criteria set by the President will be eligible to receive deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and will be eligible to apply for work authorization.
The Administration’s new policy will apply to those who meet the following criteria:
1. Came to the United States under the age of sixteen
2. Have lived in the United States continuously for at least the last five years
3. Are in school, have graduated from high school, obtained a GED or are serving in the military.
4. Have not been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor.
5. Are 30 years old or younger.
Only those individuals who can prove through verifiable documentation that they meet these criteria will be eligible for deferred action. Individuals will not be eligible if they are not currently in the United States and cannot prove that they have been physically present in the United States for a period of not less than five years immediately preceding today’s date. Deferred action requests will be decided on a case-by-case basis. DHS cannot provide any assurance that all such requests will be granted. The use of prosecutorial discretion confers no substantive right, immigration status, or pathway to citizenship. Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights.
While this guidance takes effect immediately, USCIS and ICE expect to begin implementation of the application processes within sixty days.
Reaction from Capitol Hill
Reaction on Capitol Hill to the President's remarks fell along predictable lines, with Democrats praising the move and Republicans calling it a backdoor amnesty that violates the President's constitutional and statutory authority.
On the Republican side of the aisle, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), a long-time opponent of increasing legal immigration and opponent of providing relief to undocumented aliens living in the United States, said of the President's decision, "President Obama’s decision to grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants is a breach of faith with the American people. It also blatantly ignores the rule of law that is the foundation of our democracy. This huge policy shift has horrible consequences for unemployed Americans looking for jobs and violates President Obama’s oath to uphold the laws of this land. Continuing, the Texas Republican said, "President Obama’s amnesty only benefits illegal immigrants, not Americans, and is a magnet for fraud. Many illegal immigrants will falsely claim they came here as children and the federal government has no way to check whether their claims are true. And once these illegal immigrants are granted deferred action, they can then apply for a work permit, which the Administration routinely grants 90% of the time." Chairman Smith went on to ask, "[h]ow can the Administration justify allowing illegal immigrants to work in the U.S. when millions of Americans are unemployed? President Obama and his administration once again have put partisan politics and illegal immigrants ahead of the rule of law and the American people. With this track record, it’s looking more likely that even President Obama may lose his job in this economy when Americans go to the polls this November.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Minority Member Charles Grassley (R-IA) took to Twitter with his response to President Obama's Rose Garden speech, remarking from the popular microblogging platform that limits posters to 140 characters or less, "PrezO circumvents Congress to give amnesty/work auth to illegal imm EVEN w record unemployment of Am youth Political move disregard ppl will."
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who was President Obama's 2008 GOP opponent and who once cosponsored comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, said of the President's announcement, “[i]mmigration reform is an important and complex issue that deserves a debate among the American people and in Congress. Today’s announcement by President Obama is a politically-motivated power grab that does nothing to further the debate but instead adds additional confusion and uncertainty to our broken immigration system. Further, I find it interesting that after promising to enact comprehensive reform in the first year of his Presidency, the President chose to make this announcement in the middle of his heated re-election campaign. Rather than unilaterally deciding for the American people what they want and how they believe this problem should be addressed, I encourage the President and his Administration to finally reach out to Congress and propose legislation on this important issue.”
Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), also a one-time supporter of comprehensive immigration reform said of the President's announcement, "President Obama’s attempt to go around Congress and the American people is at best unwise and possibly illegal."
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), long rumored to be a possible choice of Governor Mitt Romney's (R-MA) for the 2012 Vice Presidential nomination had a more cautious response to President Obama's decision, saying, "[t]here is broad support for the idea that we should figure out a way to help kids who are undocumented through no fault of their own, but there is also broad consensus that it should be done in a way that does not encourage illegal immigration in the future. This is a difficult balance to strike, one that this new policy, imposed by executive order, will make harder to achieve in the long run. Continuing, Senator Rubio said, "[t]oday’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short term answer to a long term problem. And by once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long term one.” Senator Rubio's comments are important for a number of reasons. First, he is the only Republican Latino in the United States Senate and is a rising star in the party. And second, he has spent much of the last several weeks talking about a legislative proposal of his own that is somewhat similar to the Administration's proposal.
Reaction was far more positive from the Democratic side of the political aisle.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-IL), the long-time author of the DREAM Act in the Senate, said, “[t]he Obama Administration’s decision to extend temporary legal status to DREAM Act students is an historic humanitarian moment. 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. These young people did not make the decision to come to this country, and it is not the American way to punish children for their parents’ actions. I commend President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano for their courage and leadership. I also want to thank Senator Dick Lugar for having the courage to confront Tea Party orthodoxy and join me on a bipartisan basis to request this change in policy” The Senator went on to say, “I first made this request of the Administration two years ago and renewed it with the support of 21 Senators last year. Because the House has refused to consider the DREAM Act and a filibuster blocked it in the Senate, this Presidential action was absolutely necessary to serve the cause of justice.”
Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force, said of President Obama's decision, "this is a time to celebrate. The DREAMers are not the sum total of the immigration issue and even with today's announcement, the DREAM Act legislation is still needed to give people permanent relief beyond the two-year reprieve. And many other immigrants with no criminal history and deep roots here deserve the same consideration and we will keep fighting for them. This sets the ball in motion to break the gridlock and fix our laws so that people who live here can do so legally and on-the-books and people can come with visas instead of smugglers in the first place. Today the students are being protected, but we have to fix the system for their families and for the country once and for all." At the same time, Representative Gutierrez advised caution and sobriety, asserting, "[t]he details of this program are still being finalized, so immigrants across the country should be patient and very skeptical of anyone who claims to have all the answers immediately. I was told the government needs at least 60 days to put things in place and I will work with the President and Secretary Napolitano to get clear and accurate information out about who does and does not qualify for the relief in the Secretary's memo as soon as possible."
Click on the Play Button, Above, to See Video of President Obama's June 15, 2012, Remarks from the White House Rose Garden Announcing His Decision to Provide Temporary Relief for DREAM Act Children