The Obama administration will formally begin granting some young undocumented immigrants legal status and work permits later this month under a controversial new policy first announced by President Obama in June.
The Department of Homeland Security today announced details of the application and approval process for the DREAM Act-like program, outlining specific eligibility requirements and a $465 fee. It will begin Aug. 15.
Illegal immigrants younger than 30 who came to the United States before age 16, have lived here for at least five years continuously, attend or have graduated from high school or college, and have no criminal convictions are eligible to submit requests for so-called deferred action (legalese for an official exemption from deportation).
The administration said documentation provided by each applicant will be reviewed individually on a case-by-case basis at one of four service centers run by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. It's unclear how long each review will take, but some immigrants are expected to receive temporary legal status before Election Day.
While the "dreamers" will not obtain a path to citizenship or the right to vote, Obama's policy shift - circumventing Congress with executive action - has been widely seen as a politically motivated nod to Hispanics who have long sought the change.
Obama's Republican critics today sharply assailed the new policy as unconstitutional and out of touch with the jobs crisis U.S. citizens face.
"Today's deferred action guidance is another example of how the president's policies put the interests of illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith said.
"On the same day the unemployment rate rose to 8.3 percent, the Obama administration announced a requirement for illegal immigrants to apply to be able to work in the U.S.," the GOP congressman from Texas said. "The administration's guidelines don't just encourage illegal immigrants to work in the U.S., they actually require them to apply to do so."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the process is a compassionate and common-sense approach to a group of individuals who were brought to the United States illegally by no fault of their own and have grown up as Americans.
"Our nation's immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner," 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."