Administration officials tried to head off public protest over their June 15 decision to not deport under-30 illegal immigrants by claiming that the de-facto amnesty is not a legal amnesty.
“This is not amnesty — it is an exercise of [prosecutorial] discretion so that these young people are not in the removal system,” said President Barack Obama’s immigration deputy, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
The legal rollback is needed to focus law-enforcement resources on criminals and terrorists, officials claimed.
But Napolitano also undermined the claim by highlighting the policy’s broad and immediate impact.
“Effective immediately, young [foreign] people who were brought to the United States… will no longer be removed from the country,” Napolitano said in the press conference.
The administration’s large-scale amnesty for roughly 800,000 illegals may spur anger among voters already facing high unemployment.
Many polls show Americans want to be generous to immigrants, but fear the impact on jobs and their neighborhoods. Even the so-called “DREAM Act” did not win a clear majority of support from the public, despite much much lobbying by industry and hispanic advocates, and despite favorable media coverage that cast it as a minor measure to help younger productive Hispanics.
The administration’s election-year amnesty move may grow far larger than advertised, because it can be used by foreign children who are now in the country when they reach the age of 15. Younger illegal immigrants “will be able to age into the process,” said an administration official June 15.
It may also be exploited by other immigrants who will use the existing black-market in false documents to fake suitable work histories and ages.
The new policy may also spur additional illegal immigration by people wishing to see their children immigrate into United States’ relatively high-wage economy.
The process puts illegals under age 30 on track to gain legal residency, citizenship and the ability to co-sponsor their older relatives to legally join them in the United States.
New citizens, including older residents, are eligible for the United States’ relatively generous welfare programs, including Medicare and Medicare.
The potential for campaign-trail damage was highlighted by Napolitano’s June 15 press conference.
She portrayed the amnesty as a cost-saving program, not an amnesty or a bid for Hispanic votes in 2012.
“I believe that additional measures are needed to ensure that enforcement resources are not expended on low priority cases,” she said.
But she did not take questions from reporters.
Instead, two administration officials answered questions from selected reporters, including from the Spanish-language TV network, Univision and from The New York Times.
The selected reporters did not offer skeptical questions about the scale and impact of the amnesty. The reporters also did not ask about its impact on American workers, especially low-skill workers whose wages and opportunities have declined for more than a decade amid the inflow of roughly 10 million illegal immigrants.