Obama halts deportations of young illegals

2012-06-16 11:47
US President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Saul Loeb, Pool, AP)

US President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Saul Loeb, Pool, AP)

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Washington - US President Barack Obama on Friday suspended the threat of deportation against hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors, delighting crucial Hispanic voters ahead of November's election.

"These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighbourhoods... they are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one... on paper," Obama said at the White House.

The scheme applies to people brought to the United States before the age of 16, who are currently under 30, are in school or have graduated from high school, or have served in the military and have not been convicted of a felony.

"Put yourself in their shoes, imagine you have done everything right your entire life... only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country you know nothing about," Obama said.

"This is not amnesty, this is not immunity... this is the right thing to do," said Obama, who, in an unusual scene, was heckled by a journalist from the conservative Daily Caller website during his remarks.


The affected youths will be able to apply for work permits, but not be granted permanent residence or put on a path towards citizenship. The move offers a two-year deferment of deportation proceedings that could be extended by a further two years on expiry.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that only young people that had been living in the United States for five years and were no threat to national security would be eligible.

Obama's decision will go some way to enshrining the goals of the DREAM Act, legislation backed by the White House that could lead to young illegal immigrants gaining permanent residency.

The bill, opposed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Capitol Hill conservatives, has repeatedly failed to pass Congress and become law.

Romney said that although the plight of young illegals was important, the action Obama took "makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution".

"I'd like to see legislation that deals with this issue," he said, adding that he agreed with the approach of US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Rubio, seen as a possible future Republican presidential candidate, is trying to walk a tightrope on immigration between a hawkish Republican party and a desire not to alienate Hispanic voters, the country's fastest growing racial minority group.

"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," Rubio said.

There are 11.5 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, mostly of Hispanic origin, and efforts to deal with their status have foundered over sharp political divisions.

In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last month, Obama led Romney among registered Hispanic voters, 61 to 27%.

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