Immigration Activists Sift Through Policy Statement
ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants may avoid deportation because of a policy shift in the Obama administration. The administration says it has merely clarified a policy that's been around for a while, but opponents say the president is making an end run around Congress. NPR congressional reporter Tamara Keith explains.
TAMARA KEITH: There are about 300,000 deportation cases pending right now in the nation's immigration courts. Some are for convicted murderers, gang members, others for high-achieving college kids or military veterans. The Obama administration is planning a case-by-case review. Convicts would be deported first. Law-abiding people who've been here a long time will have their cases put on hold. Some will even be able to apply for work permits.
Representative RAUL GRIJALVA: We don't have comprehensive reform, which could deal with a lot of these questions, but it's an interim step.
KEITH: Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva represents southwest Arizona. He says he's seen many cases where just one spouse or a teenager who has virtually spent their entire life in the U.S. faces deportation.
GRIJALVA: At least at my office and I think offices across this country, we're dealing with the misery of divided families, of young people. And each case, we've been asking for judicial discretion and review. Now that it's part of the policy, it will give us an opportunity to be able to help these people that we haven't been able to help up to this point.
KEITH: President Obama has supported a bill known as the DREAM Act. It would allow young people brought to the U.S. by their parents to stay in the country legally if they attend college or join the military, but Congress has rejected the DREAM Act, including a close vote in late 2010. To many, the administration's policy shift looks a whole lot like a backdoor DREAM Act even if it doesn't create a path to citizenship. Roy Beck is president of Numbers USA, an organization that advocates immigration reduction.
ROY BECK: He couldn't get it through the lame-duck Congress. He has a Congress now that wouldn't even come close to considering it. And so he's just going to do what the people's representatives refuse to do.
KEITH: Beck says it's more than a little convenient that this came out in the depths of August, when members of Congress are away. But he expects the outrage to grow, especially if the policy is seen as an effort to curry favor with Hispanic voters in 2012. In a statement, Republican representatives Peter King of New York and Candice Miller of Michigan said the administration's policy is, quote, "A blatant attempt to grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal aliens in this country and is totally unacceptable." As chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, King could hold a hearing on the policy when Congress returns this fall. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.
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