Alexandra Alor follows a simple system to elude immigration authorities.
An illegal immigrant from Peru, Alor doesn't venture out of her home in DeKalb County when she sees police setting up traffic stops nearby or hears about them on Hispanic radio stations. That system has worked for the 17-year-old Lakeside High School student ever since her grandmother illegally brought her to the United States about 10 years ago.
Now she sees an opportunity to remain here without the nerve-racking fear of deportation. She plans to apply for special consideration this week under a controversial new policy the Obama administration announced in June. The policy applies to illegal immigrants who were brought here as young children, who have not committed serious crimes and who are now in school or have graduated.
Proponents say the policy is a humane way to boost the U.S. economy by keeping educated immigrants such as Alor here. Critics say the White House is pandering to Hispanics for votes with its election-year announcement, and that the move could take jobs away from American citizens. They also worry the changes could send the wrong signals, inviting more people to enter the country illegally. The government's new approach comes as Georgia is battling in federal court for permission to enforce several tough measures aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration.
Wednesday is the first day immigrants such as Alor may start applying to the government for "deferred action," or a promise that they won't be deported for two years. Alor can apply again in two years. She also plans to seek permission to work legally here as part of the same process.
Nearly 1 million immigrants across the U.S. are now eligible for deferred action, according to an estimate by the Immigration Policy Center, an arm of the American Immigration Council, an immigrant rights and policy group in Washington. Of those, 24,360 live in Georgia, the eighth-largest total among states.
The Obama administration announced the policy in June, saying it would help authorities spend more resources on deporting illegal immigrants who threaten public safety or national security.
To apply, immigrants must pay $465 and submit to background checks. To become eligible for work permits, they must also demonstrate "economic necessity." Those who are spared from deportation will not be given legal status under the policy. But they may reapply for deferred action and work authorization. Those who receive deferred action can apply for driver's licenses in Georgia. And those who get work permits can obtain Social Security cards, said Charles Kuck, Alor's immigration attorney, who teaches immigration law at the University of Georgia.
The new policy bears some similarity to a provision in the DREAM Act, legislation that would give special consideration to illegal immigrants who came here as children, graduated from high school and attended college or served in the military. That legislation failed in Congress in 2010.
During a Rose Garden speech in June, President Barack Obama said the change will help make the nation's immigration policy "more fair, more efficient and more just."
"This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people," said Obama, whose administration has continued to push for passage of the DREAM Act.
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