President Barack Obama’s administration announced Friday that it would stop deporting younger illegal immigrants and would begin granting them work permits.
The policy will apply to immigrants younger than 30 who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, have been in the country at least five years, have no criminal history and graduated from high school, earned a GED or served in the military. The decision could affect as many as 800,000 immigrants.
“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement. “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.”
DHS said it will continued to “focus its enforcement resources on the removal of individuals who pose a national security or public safety risk, including immigrants convicted of crimes, violent criminals, felons, and repeat immigration law offenders.”
Napolitano told reporters on Friday that the new policy did not amount to amnesty.
Senior administration officials admitted that the deferral waivers, which would have to be renewed every two years, would allow a future administration to treat the same population differently.