SAN ANTONIO – President Barack Obama’s speech detailing his administration’s immigration policy change has immediate ripple effects in South Texas.
“Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation of these young people,” President Obama said. “Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.”
With that, young, law-abiding undocumented immigrants need not fear deportation. The President’s policy change will allow them to apply for work permits.
The new policy applies to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. It’s a significant policy shift with major electoral implications.
President Obama’s executive order does not necessarily create a path to citizenship, but does allow immigrants who qualify to legally work in the U.S.
“It is the right thing to do for the American people and here's why,” President Obama said. “Here's the reason: because these young people are going to make extraordinary contributions and are already making contributions to our society."
His words could be life preservers for illegal immigrants who grew up in the U.S., attended American schools but cannot work in the country they call home.
"I've already been getting emails and phone calls from people wanting to know -- do I qualify?" San Antonio immigration attorney Joseph B. De Mott said.
He estimates of the 12 million people living illegally in the U.S., more than 800,000 people qualify.
That means they were brought to the U.S. under the age of 16 and are currently younger than 30 years old. They must have no criminal history and have been in the country for at least five years. Qualified immigrants will have graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a G.E.D., or served in the military.
Those illegal immigrants will now be immune from deportation under a legal term called deferred action status.
"Deferred action status means the government knows you are here without papers, that you are removable or deportable, but they're going to defer action,” De Mott says. “They're going to set aside action moving against you because of humanitarian reasons."
These younger immigrants can also apply for a work permit that will be good for two years.
De Mott expects the application process to begin in about two months.
He says the news rules will allow law enforcement to prioritize. De Mott says now, ICE and other agencies can focus on deporting undocumented workers who are breaking the laws instead of the ones trying to improve their lives.
De Mott says it's worth keeping in mind there is an election in November, and should there be a change in Presidency, there's no guarantee this policy will stick. He says that caveat has to be on the minds of undocumented workers who are deciding whether to come forward.