DREAMer policy on illegal immigrants goes live. Can it backfire on Obama?
Obama has a lot riding on effective implementation of his new policy to give some young illegal immigrants a reprieve from deportation. If the government botches it, backlash in the Latino community could hurt him politically.
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Obama’s new policy, by contrast, offers only two years of “deferred action,” meaning a stay of deportation proceedings, a Social Security number, and the opportunity to apply for a work permit under roughly similar eligibility conditions.Skip to next paragraph
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Strike three: The Obama administration deported nearly 320,000 people in 2011, a jump of more than 20 percent from 2008, the last year of President George W. Bush’s second term.
“The DREAMers are watching closely, and [the Obama administration is] going to have a lot of work to do after they’ve been tearing families apart over the last four years,” says Wendy Cervantes, vice president of immigration at First Focus, a children’s policy advocacy organization.
Whether the proposal succeeds or fails for DREAMers will have much to do with how smoothly the bureaucratic gears grind. Is the Department of Homeland Security’s division charged with handling DACA, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), up to the task of handling perhaps as many as several hundred thousand applications?
Republican critics of the program say it is not, citing only 60 days' notice since Obama announced the policy shift. They worry that the government will thus be lax in evaluating potential applicants.
“The president’s amnesty program is a magnet for fraud and abuse. While potentially millions of illegal immigrants will be permitted to compete with American workers for scarce jobs, there seems to be little if any mechanism in place for vetting fraudulent applications and documentation submitted by illegal immigrants,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in a statement Tuesday.
Immigrant advocates say they like what they’ve heard from USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, who walked through some of the implementation details during a speech last week at a Migration Policy Institute seminar.
Just because the policy was announced in June doesn’t mean that’s when planning began, says Charles Wheeler, director of the National Legal Center for Immigrants of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. The fact that DHS “will have [an application] form, and they will have an address, and they will be up and running” in such a short time is a sign that it is taking the potential challenge seriously, says Mr. Wheeler, who has more than three decades' experience in immigration law.
Still, USCIS recognizes the challenge ahead. Mr. Mayorkas last week would not offer a window for how long the USCIS will take to work through an application because it simply doesn’t know how many it will receive and what the challenges will be.
“They certainly aren’t Polyanna-ish” about potential problems, says Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at MPI and a former commissioner of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service who moderated the panel discussion with Mayorkas. “It will be bigger than any single caseload that they’ve handled, and it has the added element of tremendous amount of scrutiny that will be on it just because of the nature of the population, the way in which it came up, as well as the critics that will be watching.”
And not all the critics are Republicans.
“If they fail again, I think that is really going to once again disappoint the community,” says Ms. Hincapie of the National Immigration Law Center. “It really will just shatter a lot of the trust in the administration for actual change and implementation of a program like this. That’s why the stakes are so high.”