The United States won't seek to deport people who entered the country illegally as children and meet certain criteria, the Obama administration said Friday.
"Our nation's immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a release. "But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here."
The changes affect undocumented immigrants brought into the United States as children who aren't a risk to national security or public safety and who meet other criteria, Napolitano said. Those meeting the criteria could receive deferred action for a 2-year period and will be eligible to apply for work permits.
The election-year initiative addresses a key issue of the critical Latino bloc opposed to deportation policies.
The administrative action bypasses Congress and includes elements of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act -- the so-called DREAM Act -- long-sought-but-never-enacted legislation that would have provided a path toward citizenship for children who entered the United States illegally but attended college or served in the military. Republicans blocked the initiative in 2010.
Under the criteria, consideration will be given to individuals who entered the United States under the age of 16 and are not older than 30; have lived in the United States for at least five years; are in school, graduated from high school, earned a general equivalency certificate or honorably discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard or armed forces; and haven't been convicted of a felony, major misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
Deferred action requests will be decided on a case-by-case basis, the department said. Implementation of the application process should happen within 60 days, officials said.
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