New Immigration Policy Offers Hope to the DREAM-Act Eligible

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Julia Preston, national immigration correspondent for the New York Times, discusses the Obama administration's announcement that it would stop deporting young immigrants brought here as children.

Immigrants and supporters of the DREAM Act had some good news recently. President Obama announced that the government would be focusing future deportation efforts on people who commit crimes and not on otherwise law-abiding DREAM Act-eligible citizens.

The DREAM Act would allow children brought into the country without documentation to become citizens upon completion of either two years of college or two years in the military. Congress has refused to pass the legislation, but supporters continued to work toward a path to immigration reform.

Julia Preston said it is true that people who commit crimes are already prioritized for deportation. What is different now is that deportations will actually be canceled for people already in proceedings. A working group from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice will be going case-by-case through the approximately 300,000 cases that are already people in deportation proceedings to cancel the deportations of eligible people. In addition the administration will be more forceful in training immigration enforcement officials so that removal proceedings are not initiated against people who would be DREAM Act-eligible.

The move will make people eligible to work in the country, but Preston said it is important to be clear about the limitations of that.

It will no confer any positive status, only Congress could that, by passing the Dream Act… the kids who are in this situation by avoiding deportation will be in a kind of legal limbo.

Not everyone affected, of course, will be a kid. Many of the people most likely to feel the impact of the decision are college-age.

We’re talking about a pretty large number of people across the country, as many as three-quarters of a million, 750,000 people, across the country, who might immediately be eligible if the DREAM Act were to pass.

Under existing law it is possible for immigration authorities to grant work permits to people who have their deportation proceedings continued but the actual deportation canceled. Preston said that means those people already in proceedings who have their deportation canceled due to the decision may become eligible for permits, but it’s not automatic or guaranteed.

If these young people can get a permit, then that brings a social security number, and that brings the possibility of doing what so many of them want to do, which is go to college at the in-state resident tuition rate. The big issue for a lot of these kids is.. they can’t afford to go to college.. they can’t afford to pay the –out-of-state rates.

The policies regarding eligibility for in-state tuition do vary state-to-state, and in New York, undocumented students can already attend college at in-state rates.

Young immigrants who have not had deportation proceedings initiated will not have this option, so in a way those who remain undetected are in a worse place than those in proceedings now.  Preston said to be clear, this is still not the DREAM Act , but for those still under-the-radar, this order will still bring benefits, as the policy becomes to leave them alone.

They can have a more public life than they had before.