It’s a wonder why President Obama’s newest deportation guidelines would even be necessary, as the administration has long insisted it doesn’t focus deportation efforts on young, non-criminal illegal immigrants who would otherwise be covered under the DREAM Act. As the always enlightening Ruben Navarrette points out:
Then there is the inconvenient fact that we’re not supposed to even need this kind of policy change because, according to Obama, his administration isn’t deporting DREAM’ers at all; instead, it’s concentrating its enforcement efforts on criminals. That’s exactly what Obama told Univision anchor Jorge Ramos during a March 2011 trip to El Salvador. A couple of weeks later, Obama had to swallow those words when — during an education town hall meeting in Washington, sponsored by Univision — he was confronted by a DREAM’er holding deportation papers. So now we’re supposed to applaud the administration for not deporting people the president had claimed weren’t being deported in the first place.
Here is what Obama claimed during his Univision interview in March 2011:
President [Obama] said,“we have refocused our efforts on those who have engaged in criminal activity.” Furthermore, he said, “We aren’t going around rounding up students,” the president told Ramos last Wednesday, “that is completely false.”
As Navarrette writes, this was debunked just weeks later when a student confronted Obama with her deportation papers at a Q&A session.
In August of 2011, President Obama was under pressure from Democratic lawmakers to do something about the spike in deportations. So the Department of Homeland Security issued new illegal immigration enforcement guidelines, saying that it would curb deportations of non-criminals, people who had been in the U.S. for an extended time, veterans, young people, and other groups.
“If fully implemented, the new process should stop virtually all DREAM Act deportations,” read a press release from DREAM advocate Sen. Dick Durbin’s office.
At the time, Obama himself likened the rules to the DREAM Act in a speech to Hispanic political leaders. “[T]he Department of Homeland Security is applying common-sense standards for immigration enforcement,” he said. “And we’ve made progress so that our enforcement policies prioritize criminals who endanger our communities, not students trying to achieve the American Dream.”
If these students were already supposed to be protected, per Obama’s “common-sense” policy, why would this latest move even be necessary?
Sure, there are some provisions that seem to expand the August 2011 memo. The previous guidelines only impacted illegal immigrants who were presently involved in deportation proceedings, but, under the new guidelines, it appears that any illegal immigrant who meets the qualifications can apply for a work permit and two-year reprieve from deportation.
However — that also means they’ll have to intentionally make themselves known to the deportation authorities, with no guarantee that they’ll be approved.
And the newer guidelines do not exempt whole groups from deportation. The DHS says it will still consider illegal immigrants on a case-by-case basis, even if they meet all of the requirements.
In many ways, the new guidelines actually appear to be narrower than the guidelines issued in 2011. The new ones focus on specific ages (i.e. prioritizing those who came to the U.S. under the age of 15, and those who are currently under the age of 30). The specifics hew closely to the details in Sen. Marco Rubio’s version of the DREAM Act — which Obama has set back with this announcement — but they actually ignore many of the people who were already supposed to be protected under DHS’s 2011 guidelines.
The substance of Obama’s policy is laudable. Young, noncriminal illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. through not fault of their own should not be a deportation priority — not just because we don’t have the resources to round them up, but because it’s the right thing to do. These illegal immigrants are blameless, and many of them know no other home than America. The question is whether Obama’s new guidelines will have much of an effect. Despite DHS’s decision to focus mainly on criminal deportations last summer, the proportion of criminal to noncriminal illegal immigrants undergoing deportation proceedings has actually declined, according to Syracuse University. At the end of the day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement still has the discretion to decide each case on an individual basis, as there has been no law passed by Congress.