The White House immigration policy would not prevent illegal aliens who have committed identity theft or have been driving cars without licenses from obtaining work permits, an administration official told reporters during a press conference on Friday.
It will also be extended to some illegals already in jail and to some who have already been approved for deportation by judges, he said.
The work permits — and the complementary access to welfare programs — will also be granted to individuals “with a significant disability … or [who are] far, far below the national poverty level,” the official said.
The two-year permits can be extended once they expire, the official added.
The official did not place a limit on the number of work permits that will be granted to illegals, despite the nation’s record level of 23 million unemployed, underemployed or disheartened workers.
“We want to maximize participation,” said the official.
The offer over what conservatives call a version of amnesty to illegals who have been driving without a license is a hot-button issue, partly because unlicensed illegals have been involved in deadly wrecks in Virginia, Massachusetts, Minnesota and other states.
The policy was announced in June by President Barack Obama in a Rose Garden speech. Neither he nor his press secretary took questions that day.
Obama’s videotaped speech was prominently displayed on the Hispanic section of Obama’s campaign website.
The presidential policy — which was pitched by officials as a large-scale exercise of “prosecutorial discretion” — has been credited by Democrats with boosting Obama’s support among Hispanic voters into the 70 percent level.
Obama’s campaign officials have frequently said they’re trying to win enough Hispanic voters to carry several swing states, including Virginia and Florida.
Controversy over the policy isn’t necessarily a negative for the Obama campaign, because Hispanic voters may feel pressured to rally around other Hispanics and vote for Obama if there’s heated public criticism of the policy.
Still, there are some risks for the Obama campaign: Several polls show the president’s plan is mostly disliked by swing voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Those voters may align themselves with presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who has promised to enforce immigration laws.
During Friday’s press conference, officials invited questions from friendly media outlets, including The New York Times, LA Opinion, Telemundo and the Arizona Republic.
The Department of Homeland Security is ready to hire extra workers to meet demands for the work permits, the official said.
However, “we have not done an independent assessment of the volume,” of applicants, he said during the press conference.
The official was not asked by the selected reporters if the amnestied illegals would be hired by the department to process requests from other illegals, or if there’s an upper limit on the work permit that will be awarded to illegals.
When illegals apply for the work permits, any incriminating information they report — such as the number of years they’ve been in the United States — “will not be used for immigration enforcement purposes,” the official said.
The agency “will not use the information for law enforcement purposes,” unless the applicants submit fraudulent information or are deemed to be a national security threat, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters shortly before an official spoke on background.
Illegals won’t have to supply information that would show their illegal use of other Americans’ Social Security numbers, the unnamed official said.
Americans who use other people’s numbers can face felony charges of identity theft.
The amnesty will not be offered to people who have been found guilty of a felony, or of “a significant misdemeanor,” such as driving while intoxicated, the official said.
However, the official did not describe what process officials would use to verify that each applicant had not committed a felony.
Advocates of strict immigration enforcement say weak identification rules will allow felons and criminals to live and work among Americans, competing for jobs and for housing and education resources.