President Barack Obama will announce today a new policy that will affect around 800,000 young people who are in the U.S. illegally. The announcement comes on the heels of a call by a broad coalition of evangelical leaders to reform the nation's immigration system.
The new policy applies to only some of the millions of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. Homeland security will not prosecute immigrants who came to the country before their 16th birthday, are currently under the age of 30, and have lived in the U.S. for at least the past five years.
Immigrants who qualify must also be in school, finished high school, or be honorably discharged from the military. The policy will not apply to any immigrants convicted of a felony or who pose a threat to national security.
Secretary Homeland Security Janet Napolitano wrote a memo explaining the new policy, where the Department of Homeland Security will exercise its prosecutorial discretion by no longer pursuing cases against many of the young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. without documentation.
"Our Nation' s immigration laws must be enforced in a strong and sensible manner. 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," Napolitano wrote. "Indeed, many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways."
The administrative decision effectively enacts the so-called Dream Act, a law that would have provided a path to citizenship for young people who came to the U.S. as children and have since finished their education and/or have joined the military.
Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, suggested that the announcement was good news for both immigrants and the country.
"It is the right thing to do," Anderson said in a statement. "I hope that the Congress will quickly follow with a just and compassionate reform of our entire system of immigration. Our country has already waited a long time to get our immigration laws fixed. This is an encouraging first step."
"The announcement from the White House today is very good news for 1 million young people who have a dream of staying in the country where they have lived most of their lives. Instead of being placed in the deportation pipeline, they will receive work permits enabling them to contribute to the nation and help build America's future," Sojourners president Jim Wallis said.
The new policy does not change the nation's immigration laws. Rather, it simply states that the administration will prioritize its cases and will use its discretion to no longer pursue particular immigration cases.