Immigration announcement: What it means

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced Friday it would halt the deportation of some young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children. Here is a nuts-and-bolts guide to the policy shift.

Question: Who is eligible?

Answer: To be eligible, an individual must have come to the United States before age 16 and must have continuously lived in the country for at least five years. He or she must be living in the U.S. today and must be 30 or younger. The person must also be in school, have a high school diploma or a GED, or be a member of the military or an honorably discharged veteran. Anyone convicted of a felony, serious misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors or who otherwise poses a threat to national security is not eligible.

Q: How many people will be eligible?

A: The administration estimates that 800,000 people will be affected by the policy change. Some estimates climb higher; the Pew Hispanic Center says the new guidelines could benefit as many as 1.4 million people.

Q: Does this provide a path to citizenship?

A: No. The policy only allows for two years of “deferred action,” meaning that deportation would be delayed for that period. After two years, a person could apply for a renewal, which would extend the deportation freeze for another two years. Only Congress can establish a path to citizenship

“This is a temporary measure to keep you from being removed,” said Tricia Swartz, director of immigrant services at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. “It doesn’t give you a green card or citizenship.”

Swartz suggests that people who think they qualify under the new policy find an attorney or local nonprofit to consult before submitting an application.

Q: Does this allow people to get a work permit?

A: Yes, if a person is eligible under this policy, he or she may apply for work authorization.

Q: How does this affect the Dream Act?

A: The Dream Act, a bill that would establish a path to citizenship for students or members of the military who came to the country illegally as minors, has repeatedly stalled in Congress. President Obama supports the measure. In his State of the Union address in January, he urged Congress to revisit the bill, but there is currently no version under consideration by Congress. Sen. Marco Rubio, a freshman Republican from Florida, has floated an alternative Dream Act that would create a nonimmigrant visa for qualifying students, but would not create a path to citizenship. Rubio has not yet introduced specific legislation; on Friday, he called the administration’s plan “a short-term answer to a long-term problem.”

Q: If I am eligible under this new policy, can I get a driver’s license?

A: Each state has its own policy on whether noncitizens may have driver’s licenses. California Department of Motor Vehicles spokesman Mike Marando would not comment Friday on how this new policy would affect Californians.

Q: What happens if Mitt Romney wins the presidential election?

As administrations change, policies can change, and for now, it is not clear what effect a Mitt Romney victory in November would have. In a statement Friday, Romney declined to say whether he would overturn the Department of Homeland Security’s new policy guidelines. He did say that if he became president, he would do his best “to have that kind of long-term solution that provides certainty and clarity for the people who come into this country through no fault of their own, by virtue of the action of their parents.”

Q: Where can I get more information?

A: More details are available at the websites of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (www.uscis.gov), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (www.ice.gov) and the Department of Homeland Security (www.dhs.gov). Starting Monday, people can also call the Citizenship and Immigration Services hot line at (800) 375-5283 or ICE’s hot line at (888) 351-4024.

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