U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) championed this afternoon President Barack Obama’s Friday announcement that the Department of Homeland Security would enable a large swath of undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 to avoid deportation.
The announcement could mean a work permit, drivers license, and living without the fear of deportation for an estimated 70,000 people in Illinois and 1.4 million people nationally, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the Migration Policy Institute.
But Gutierrez also focused on the implementation of Obama’s executive action, warning that there will be people “who want to exploit and take advantage of this situation” by, for example, making immigrants pay for bogus legal information.
Speaking at a downtown Chicago press conference organized by the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Gutierrez stressed to the young, undocumented immigrants in the audience that “there is nothing to apply for” as the executive order does not go into effect for 60 days.
Gutierrez said he would hold a June 23 community forum in Chicago’s predominantly Latino Pilsen neighborhood “to arm the community with accurate information.”
Obama’s announcement Friday gives any undocumented immigrant under the age of 30 who came to the U.S. before they turned 16 years-old a two-year reprieve from facing deportation, and the ability to apply for renewal every two years.
The applicant must also have resided in the U.S. since 2007, and must not have been convicted of a felony or “significant” misdemeanor such as burglary. Additionally, the applicant must either be in school, have a high school diploma or GED, or been honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Services and Coast Guard.
“The rules are pretty clear,” Gutierrez said. The rules are also largely modeled after “DREAM Act” legislation sponsored by the West Side Chicago lawmaker that passed the then Democratic-controlled House in 2010 but was filibustered in the U.S. Senate.
Gutierrez explained that Obama’s action was both a response to the DREAM Act’s legislative demise, and the failure to effectively implement a prosecutorial discretion memorandum from last June.
That memorandum by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) head John Morton instructed ICE officials not to focus their deportation resources on undocumented immigrants with a clean criminal background.
Obama’s action does not give applicants a pathway to citizenship – and it does nothing at all for undocumented immigrants aged 30 and over. “We cannot rest until all of [the undocumented immigrants] are offered the same opportunity to come out of the shadows,” Gutierrez said, calling for a comprehensive overhaul of immigration policy.
Still, Gutierrez energetically lauded a president he repeatedly has clashed with – including two arrests outside the White House. “All I want is for Obama to be the champion of our community,” Gutierrez said. “He is leading and I will follow.”
It bears watching if other Latino leaders fall in line with the election less than five months away. Both Obama and presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney are in Florida this week to meet with Latino leaders.
Romney would have the power to repeal Obama’s action if elected president, and the former Massachusetts Governor repeatedly deflected the question yesterday of whether he would do this. Romney, instead, criticized Obama for his bypass of Congress.