Administration officials confirmed on Tuesday that they have expanded the White House immigration policy for younger illegals to include low-skill immigrants who have not completed middle school or high school.
The shift adds roughly 350,000 low-skill immigrants to the Department of Homeland Security policy, which was initially portrayed as including only 800,000 people under the age of 31 when it was announced by President Barack Obama in a Rose Garden statement on June 15.
The inclusion of middle school dropouts clashes with Obama’s portrayal of the illegal immigrants as skilled workers, scientists and entrepreneurs.
“Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life — studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class — only to suddenly face the threat of deportation,” Obama said on June 15, after criticizing Congress for not passing the DREAM Act.
One reason Congress did not pass the bill is because it is unpopular among voters, especially amid current, high-unemployment rates.
To downplay what conservatives call a de facto amnesty, officials have labeled the policy as a “consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals.”
The Whtie House policy provides a two-year amnesty from immigration-related law enforcement, plus a work permit. The decision vaults the illegal immigrants ahead of many foreigners who have applied to legally work in the United States.
Many illegals are expected to apply for the program on Wednesday, when government officials begin accepting requests for the two-year stays and work permits.
The expanded amnesty is now expected to cover 1.76 million people, according to an estimate by the pro-amnesty Migration Policy Institute.
“There has not been any internal [federal] estimate about the number of individuals who will request deferred action under this process. … We’re prepared for any volume that may come in,” an administration official said on Tuesday.
The foreign workers will enter the legal job market alongside the 23 million American citizens who are unemployed or underemployed. Current unemployment rates are especially high among younger Latinos and African-Americans. For example, less than half of young African-American men lack full-time jobs.
Controversy over the president’s executive DREAM Act 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 is heated public criticism of the policy.
Democrats say the amnesty has boosted support for Obama on the campaign trail among the critical Latino voting bloc. That’s vital for Obama, because his overall approval ratings have fallen amid the stalled economy, high unemployment and record deficits.
When campaigning, Obama usually avoids mentioning his June 15 policy, but has endorsed “immigration reform” in states with a significant Hispanic population.
The expansion to include low-skill immigrants was revealed in official announcements on Tuesday, which provided more details about eligibility.
Immigrants who are enrolled in a course to achieve a General Education Development (GED) will be eligible, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas said during a Tuesday press conference.
The GED enrollees don’t have to pass the GED to get the residency card and work permit, but will have to show “substantial measurable progress” when they apply for an extension after two years, Mayorkas said.
Immigrants who are enrolled in courses to get a high school certificate, or “educational, literacy or career training programs,” also qualify for the two-years stays and work permits, he said.
Even a “certificate of attendance” at a school will suffice, he said.
While promoting his amnesty, Obama has portrayed the illegal immigrants as educated and productive.
“It makes no sense to expel talented young people … who want to staff our labs, or start new businesses or defend our country,” he said on June 15.
An immigration overhaul is needed, he added, to give “our science and technology sectors certainty that the young people who come here to earn their Ph.D.s won’t be forced to leave and start new businesses in other countries.”
The influx of new immigrants may also depress wages, especially in Latino and African-American communities.
Wages for high school graduates declined 8 percent between 2007 and 2011, according to a March report by the left-of-center Economic Policy Institute.
In contrast, wages for unskilled workers rose by 10 percent between 1995 and 2000, because employers had to bid for workers amid the Internet-boosted economy.
Since then, the influx of legal and illegal immigrants has kept pace with job-creation, leaving employers with a surplus of applicants for available jobs.