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Why some illegal immigrants aren't celebrating Obama’s new policy (+video)

Some young illegal immigrants remain skeptical that President Obama's new policy, which could give renewable US work permits to 800,000 immigrants, will actually work.

By Staff writer / June 15, 2012

Myrna Orozco, 22, of Kansas City, Mo., an illegal immigrant originally from Mexico, wipes away tears while watching President Obama on Friday announce a new policy that directs authorities to stop deporting some younger illegal immigrants and begin granting them work permits.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP



An Obama administration announcement met by cheers and tears of joy from immigration activists has left at least some young illegal immigrants skeptical. 

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President Barack Obama says his plan to stop deporting younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children will make the system 'more fair, more efficient and more just.'

With Hispanic voters upset by his failure to prod Congress into action on immigration reform, President Obama announced a policy shift Friday that could allow some 800,000 undocumented immigrants age 30 or younger to remain and work in the United States legally.

[Editor's NoteThe original version of this story misstated the nature of the policy change made by the Obama administration. The change extends an existing policy of prosecutorial discretion in prioritizing the deportation of certain individuals rather than being an executive order.]

Republicans in Congress expectedly attacked the policy, calling it an end-run around the legislative process and a form of back-door amnesty that represented “a breach of faith with the American people," according to Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas

But more surprisingly, some of the very people set to benefit from the policy change questioned the timing and actual impact of the policy change. Despite Mr. Obama's apparent and repeated efforts to soften immigration policy, they note, his administration has deported record numbers of immigrants.

“The national groups are all celebrating and saying, 'Let’s congratulate the president for what he’s doing,' but a lot of people don’t know how it feels to be undocumented, and a lot of us are not going to believe it,” says Jose Rico, an undocumented Mexican who is attending community college in North Carolina and is a member of an activist group, North Carolina Dream Team. “The president has already said we’re not going to deport any more [young immigrants], but record numbers are still being deported.”

Eye on ICE

Their concerns center on how Obama's order will be carried out. The new policy pushes Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to approve "deferred deportations" for undocumented immigrants who are age 30 or under, arrived in the US before age 16, have lived in the US for at least five years, have no criminal record, and are either in school or the military or have a high school diploma.

Once they have received a deferred deportation order, qualifying immigrants can apply for a two-year work permit. Youths who are under deportation orders can also ask for deferred action in order to apply for the permits.

The catch, says Mr. Rico, is that ICE still holds the authority – Obama is only asking it to defer deportations. So far, the agency that has to some extent stonewalled the president’s previous calls to go easy on younger Latino immigrants. ICE deported a record 396,906 people during fiscal year 2011. 

Obama has already attempted to rein in ICE. Last August, for example, he asked it to deport only the worst and most hardened criminals. But many undocumented immigrants do not trust the agency, and that might prevent them from coming "out of the shadows," as Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois put it, to apply for a deferral. 

“We’ve got one person, Obama, saying you’re going to be safe," says Rico. 


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