President Barack Obama's decision to temporarily halt the deportation of and grant work permits to certain children of undocumented immigrants received careful praise - and some criticism - from local activists on Friday.
According to the Associated Press, deportations of undocumented immigrants who "were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or served in the military" would be halted. They'd also be eligible to apply for a work permit which could be renewed every two years. (Jamie Dupree's posted the complete memo from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.)
Jerry Gonzalez of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, or GALEO, said the organization was "ecstatic" but stressed that a new president in the White House after November's elections could quickly reverse the policy.
"It is a great thing for the president to do this," he says, adding that much work remained. "It's not a permanent solution, unfortunately. Ultimately these students will have deferred action for two years. No path to citizenship. They'll be able to work for two year but after two years that deferred action is up for renewal. It depends on who's in the White House, whether Conrgess passes the DREAM Act" - a controversial congressional proposal that would grant permanent residency to select undocumented immigrants - "in its entirety. All that remains in question. But ultimately it's a great step forward."
State Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth, echoed the sentiment, but said the administration's decision was a step toward creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants' children and students.
"Creating a path to citizenship for undocumented students should be priority of this nation, and this is a critical first step," he said in a statement released by the Georgia House Democrats. "This new policy will affect as many as 800,00 immigrants who have lived the past years in fear of deportation. I cheer President Obama for his decision to halt deportations of young undocumented immigrants."
Teodoro Maus, president of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, or GLAHR, told CL that Obama's decision leaves many unanswered questions - some of which the president might clarify later today during a scheduled press conference.
"It is interesting but it does not go beyond interesting," he said. "We have to see what it really means. It is not a path to citizenship it is a path for two years of residency... So for two years they will not put you in jail but also they will not give you citizenship. You are not able to get it if you committed one major crime, a felony, and multiple minor crimes."
He adds: "When we say 'minor crimes,' what does that mean? The ideal would be if this was the beginning of a immigration reform that would give an open door to becoming a permanent citizen. The Dreamers are in some ways more citizens than legal citizens. They have never left the country, they may have been born in another country but since they came here they have never left. They speak perfect English much better then they speak Spanish. They understand all the ways of being American. They should be given a door to permanent citizenship and this does not do that."
Dulce Guerrero of the student immigration organization Dream Activist Georgia, however, said the criteria chosen by the president's administration was too restrictive and that the group was "not endorsing and not celebrating the Obama announcement."
Guerrero would have liked the president to announce that the "students who qualify for the DREAM Act will not be deported." (Guerrero was one of the students arrested last year outside the Gold Dome for blocking traffic in support of the measure. All charges against Guerrero were later dropped.)
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