WASHINGTON, DC – Young illegal immigrants can start applying on August 15 for two-year deferrals from deportation, but will have to pay $465 in fees, a top immigration official announced Friday.
The announcement provided the first details of the Obama administration’s policy change announced June 15 that provides some illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children a path to an employment authorization card without fear of getting deported.
Under the new policy, people younger than 30 who came to the United States before the age of 16, pose no criminal or security threat, and were successful students or served in the military can get a two-year deferral from deportation as well as an employment authorization card.
Participants must be able to prove they have lived continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007 — five years before the change was announced — and must have entered the country without inspection or had their lawful immigration status expire.
Alejandro Mayorkas, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the application process will include providing biometric information and undergoing a background check.
Applicants who commit fraud in the application process, pose a security threat or have been convicted of serious crimes will be ineligible and subject to prosecution, he said.
In all other cases, according to Mayorkas, information submitted in the application process will not be used for immigration enforcement.
Other details announced Friday made clear that while successful applicants would avoid deportation for two years, there is no mechanism involved that would speed up or ease their path to full citizenship.
Conservative critics of the new policy said it amounted to a “backdoor” amnesty by the Obama administration to appease Hispanic supporters angered by the lack of comprehensive immigration reform since the president took office.
The policy change was in essence an administrative step to mimic some provisions of the DREAM Act backed by Obama and Democrats that was blocked by Republicans in Congress.
In announcing the change on June 15, Obama said it will make immigration policy “more fair, more efficient and more just.”
Noting children of illegal immigrants “study in our schools, play in our neighborhoods, befriend our kids, pledge allegiance to our flag,” Obama said that “it makes no sense to expel talented young people who are, for all intents and purposes, Americans.”
However, Obama and other administration officials said Congress still needs to pass the DREAM Act and tackle immigration reform because the policy change in June was designed to address an immediate need, rather than be a permanent solution.
The change was part of a Department of Homeland Security effort to target resources at illegal immigrants who pose a serious threat, such as criminals and those trying to enter the country now, officials say. By halting deportations of younger immigrants who pose no threat, the department hopes to unclog a backlog of 300,000 immigration cases.
In addition, the election-year move was widely praised by Hispanic-American leaders, many of whom previously criticized Obama for an overall increase in deportations of illegal aliens since he took office. In 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 396,906 illegal immigrants, the largest number in the agency’s history.
The Hispanic-American vote is vital to Obama’s chances for winning re-election in November.
In the conference call Friday with reporters, the senior administration official said the fees charged for applications are intended to cover the cost of implementing the policy change. No general fee waiver exists, but an exemption may be granted in exceptional cases, such as homelessness or disabilities, the official said.
The official also warned people that applications will only be accepted starting August 15, and warned that anyone who offers to expedite the process or start it earlier would be unauthorized and likely running a scam.