Obama action will prevent deportations of undocumented students

The struggle of DREAMers - undocumented immigrant students who have been in the U.S. since a young age and are seeking a path to legalization - won a victory today.

Effective immediately, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced today changes to immigration policy that would protect DREAMers from deportation by establishing guidelines outlining the eligibility of certain young people who are not a risk to national security or public safety.

This Obama administration directive establishes the use of "exercise of discretion," specifically deferred action, which authorizes deferring an individual's deportation as an act of prosecutorial discretion, without the individual continuing to accrue undocumented time.

The exercise of discretion means that DHS will evaluate each case, and if the individual meets several key criteria they will be considered for deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and employment authorization, if they can demonstrate "an economic necessity for employment."

In other words, not only would they be protected from deportation, but they would also be able to work legally in the country.

Not all youth who entered the U.S. undocumented as minors will be eligible.

Under this directive, youth must demonstrate that they meet the following criteria to be eligible:

1) having arrived in the United States under 16 years of age;

2) have lived continuously in the United States for at least five years prior to June 15, 2012 and be currently present in the country;

3) is currently attending school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or is a veteran who has been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or U.S. Armed Forces;

4) has not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, multiple misdemeanors, or poses a threat to national security or public safety;

5) is not older than 30 years of age.

Requests for deferred action will be decided on a case-by-case basis. DHS offers no guarantee that such requests will be granted.

The deferred action program may be terminated at any time at the discretion of DHS or renewed by the agency.

Although this program is effective immediately, it is estimated that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will begin implementing the application process within 60 days. At that time, USCIS and ICE will announce the process that must be followed to request deferred action.

Therefore, do not send any application to the government for now.

According to DHS, immigration law should not be used to deport young people who generally did not make the decision to come to the U.S. and who are now productive members of our country. DHS has decided to focus instead on finding and deporting individuals who present a danger to national security or public safety, including immigrants convicted of serious crimes and repeat immigration law violators.

Deferred action is not permanent residency nor does it lead to citizenship. Only Congress can grant these rights.

For individuals who are already in removal proceedings and who meet the requirements described above, ICE will immediately begin offering them deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal.

Please consult with an immigration attorney before initiating any proceedings.