Department of Homeland Security: Some Undocumented Aliens Who Came As Children Can Stay

Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it will begin to grant two-year deportation deferrals for undocumented immigrants up to 30 years old who came into the United States as children who have passed a background check and either graduated high school, earned an equivalency degree, or served in the military.

The administration’s decision is a modest victory for free-market immigration reformers. While ending such unnecessary deportations helps, more substantive reforms are needed to provide legal routes for immigrants and their American employers.  Additionally, the move does almost nothing as far as documenting any of America’s ten million or more law-abiding unauthorized workers — a completely untenable situation from an economic, criminal, and national security perspective.

This rule change is not amnesty. Prosecutorial discretion is regularly used to defer deportation under the Attorney General’s parole authority for a short period. The change does not provide legal status — it merely shifts the enforcement focus away from certain individuals who were brought into the U.S. through no fault of their own.

As DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano put it in her memorandum, “The use of prosecutorial discretion confers no substantive right, immigration status, or pathway to citizenship. Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights.” In other words, this decision is not a de facto Dream Act, which is why some conservatives like Sen. Marco Rubio have criticized the decision as a distraction from real immigration reform, while still calling it “a short term solution to a long term problem.”

The policy will allow the approximately 800,000 immigrants who meet the criteria to apply for work permits directly without leaving the U.S., as was previously required. Because these workers are in their prime working years, they will be in high demand as the economy begins to recover further. If these workers—many of whom have college degrees — are approved for work permits, they will provide a needed boost to the economy, helping America pull out of its economic doldrums.