Up to 1.4 million young adults and children illegally living in the United States could benefit from President Barack Obama’s announcement on Friday that he will no longer deport illegal immigrants brought to the country by their parents.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, that estimate includes the 700,000 illegal immigrants between the ages of 18 and 30 who came to the U.S. as children, as well as the additional 700,000 immigrants below the age of 18 who are enrolled in school.
These young immigrants “do not present a risk to national security or public safety,” according to a statement released by DHS.
“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. “But 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. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here.”
In fact, the DHS estimates that up to 800,000 young people could avoid deportation.
Hispanics have been largely dissatisfied with the Obama administration’s immigration policies since he took office. A Pew poll from last year found that 59 percent of Latinos opposed immigration policies of the Obama administration, while only 27 percent approved.
Nearly 400,000 deportations were occurring annually in the first two years of the Obama administration, marking a roughly 30 percent increase in the annual deportation rate from former President George W. Bush’s second term.
These statistics have not gone unnoticed: 41 percent of Latinos are aware that the number of annual deportations of illegal immigrants has increased during the Obama Administration.
And 36 percent say both administrations have deported the same number of illegal immigrants, with only 10 percent believing the Obama administration has deported fewer.
With half of the estimated beneficiaries of voting age, some experts believe the president’s move will help him politically.
“I think this is a major development. It’s a game-changer,” said David Leopold, an immigration lawyer and former president of American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). “Latino voters are going to be engaged and they’re going to have to take notice. It’s a huge political risk but a risk I believe is going to pay off for the president in droves.”
“This is going to truly electrify Latino voters to come out for Obama,” said Raul Reyes, an attorney and journalist who writes frequently about immigration reform.
Still, Obama’s announcement has drawn criticism from Republicans who see the president’s move as a mostly ineffective ploy to avoid facing the issue through the legislative process.
“Today’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,” said Florida Senator Marco Rubio in a statement. “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.”
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney came out against Obama’s decision and agreed with Rubio.
“I think the action the president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution because an executive is of course a short-term matter. It can be reversed by subsequent presidents… but that the president’s action makes reaching that long-term solution more difficult,” Romney said.
Some Republicans are going a step beyond talk. Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, for example, plans to sue the Obama administration for bypassing Congress.
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