ORLANDO, Florida, June 23, CMC – US President Barack Obama has defended his action in blocking deportations of as many as 800,000 undocumented, young Caribbean and other immigrants, blaming politics for overall inaction on immigration.
“I refused to keep looking young people in the eye, deserving young people in the eye, and tell them, ‘Tough luck, the politics is too hard,’” Obama told the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials here.
He said his new policy is not “amnesty” but a short-term measure that lifts “the shadow of deportation,” calling on lawmakers to pass the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship.
“To those in Congress saying Congress should be the ones to fix this, absolutely,” the president said.
Obama, who voted for the DREAM Act while in the Senate, blamed Republicans for walking away from comprehensive immigration reform.
“The bill hasn’t changed,” he said. “The need hasn’t changed. The only thing that has changed is politics.”
Obama criticized his Republican rival Mitt Romney for saying he would veto the DREAM Act, though Romney has said he wants to provide citizenship to people who serve in the military.
Late last week, Romney outlined his immigration proposal that called for permanent residency for highly skilled college graduates and members of the military.
“Some people have asked if I will let stand the president’s [order],” Romney said.
Earlier this month, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said, with immediate effect, Washington would no longer seek the deportation of illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, and would instead permit them to apply for work permits if they meet certain criteria.
The move was universally welcomed by Caribbean American lawmakers and immigration advocates as an important early step towards overhauling the US immigration system.
Obama has said the decision was intended to make the system “more fair, more efficient and more just, but has insisted that he was not granting amnesty to illegal immigrants.
“They (immigrants) were brought to this country by their parents, sometimes even as infants, and oftentimes had no idea they were undocumented until they applied for a job,” he said in a White House statement. “They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds in every single way but one: on paper.”
Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano said the shift represented neither immunity nor amnesty – buzzwords for conservatives who oppose illegal immigration – but instead represented an instance of “prosecutorial discretion” in which Washington had re-evaluated its priorities in enforcing the law.
“This is not amnesty; this is not immunity; this is not a path to citizenship,” Obama said, stating that it’s a “temporary fix.”
Napolitano said immigrants who were illegally brought to the US as children “lacked the intent to violate the law” and pose few national security risks will not be deported, if they meet five criteria.
She said the immigrant must have come to the US under the age of 16; be no older than 30; be currently enrolled in school, have graduated high school or served in the US Armed Forces; have been in the country for five continuous years; and have a clean criminal record