President Obama will sidestep Congress to relax rules that will allow children of illegal immigrants who came here when they were young to remain without the threat of deportation.
The move, coming in an election year when the Hispanic vote could be pivotal, will provide "a degree of relief to talented, patriotic young people" who have graduated from high school or served in the military,the president said today. "It is the right thing to do."
The move put in place aspects of the Dream Act, a bill that has repeatedly failed to pass Congress largely because of Republican opposition. The plan could affect up to 800,000 illegal immigrants, according to the Associated Press account, which was provided by unnamed administration officials.
The Dream Act has always been described as a path to citizenship. Obama said it was "not amnesty, not immunity, not a path to citizenship...We have always drawn strength from being a nation of immigrants, as well as being a nations of laws."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the plan earlier this morning, which a department spokesman described as mandatory policy.
To avoid deportation, illegal immigrants must have been brought to the U.S. before age 16 and must be younger than 30; have resided here at least five uninterrupted years; have no criminal record; have earned a high school diploma, either by graduating or earning a GED; or served in the military.
Democratic Rep. Charles Gonzalez of Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, praised the decision, but said that it does not completely solve the problem.
“The president’s actions were necessary due to the gridlock which has sadly become a normal condition for Congress," he said. "A legislative remedy is still needed. President Obama’s decision should serve as a call to action for the Congress to meet its responsibilities.”
Local lawmakers have started to react.
"I'll take a serious look at Secretary Napolitano's plan," said Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri.
He also said that "all problems related to illegal immigration get easier to solve if we first fix the border."
Blunt was a member of the House in 2010 when it passed the Dream Act, but he did not cast a vote at the time.
Steve Walsh, a spokesman for Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, said that while she was "interested in pursuing common sense immigration reform, she opposes President Obama’s executive order or any other action aimed at circumventing America’s immigration laws. She believes it is important that this country’s laws be complied with.”
Hartzler was not a member of Congress in 2010 when it last voted on the Dream Act.
“I think the President is doing everything within his power to provide a path for citizenship and educational opportunities to young people who, through no fault of their own, came to the United States as undocumented immigrants," said Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said she would prefer to see Congress pass the Dream Act legislation.
"But ultimately, children shouldn't be punished for the sins of their parents, and I'll be looking at the details of this announcement closely to ensure it isn't a magnet for illegal immigration," she said.
Republican Senate hopeful Sarah Steelman said that it was "appalling" that Obama, by removing the threat of deportation for young illegal immigrants, was "refusing to perform his constitutionally mandated duty to uphold the laws of the nation...What is needed in Washington is leadership to repair the entire immigration system, starting with enforcing the laws that already exist."
Todd Abrajano, a spokesman for John Brunner, who is also running for the Republican Senate nomination in Missouri, said that Brunner disagreed with the decision to "legislate by presidential fiat."