President Barack Obama announced his issuance of an Executive Order which will provide relief to potentially hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to the United States illegally, and through no fault of their own. Under the new program to be administered through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“U.S.C.I.S”) qualifying individuals may apply for deferred deportation action for two years, subject to renewal. Many of its provisions mirror those in the proposed “Dream Act” which Senate Republicans blocked in 2010, but which remains a prominent item on the President’s agenda.
President Obama explained that the new policy was intended “to mend our nation’s immigration policy, to make it more fair, more efficient and more just, specifically for certain young people sometimes called DREAMers.” He stressed that these individuals “are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano noted that the country’s immigration laws were never intended to focus on these young people who are in the country “through no fault of their own.”
While not identical to the Dream Act, the newly-announced program is available to individuals who (1) are at least sixteen years old, but no older than thirty, (2) have been brought to the U.S. before they were sixteen, (3) have lived in the U.S. for at least the five continuous years before their application, and (4) be currently enrolled in school, have graduated from high school, received a G.E.D., or have been honorably discharged from the armed forces. Potential applicants convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor, convicted of multiple misdemeanors, or who pose some other threat to national security will be ineligible.
The deferrals can be renewed after two years. Successful applicants will be eligible to apply for permanent residency on a case-by-case basis.
Lawyers who represent immigrants welcomed the development as providing a pathway to legal status for young immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents, and who wish to remain legally in their adopted country. Marc Wites of Wites Law Firm, a Florida based law firm located in Lighthouse Point, which provides immigration services, observed that “many of the individuals eligible for this program have lived most of their lives in the U.S., and may not even speak the language of their country of origin. They see themselves as Americans, and want to be participate productively in this country.” He and his partner, Marc Wites, announced that their firm is ready to assist eligible individuals with processing their applications.