Certain Young Unauthorized Immigrants Won’t Be Deported
June 15, 2012
The administration’s decision to recognize the strong ties of immigrants raised in the US is an important step toward a fairer enforcement policy. These cases highlight the need for Congress to fix US immigration law.
Antonio Ginatta, US advocacy director

(Washington, DC) – The Obama administration’s decision to end the deportation of certain young unauthorized immigrants recognizes the special consideration due immigrants who have lived in the United States since childhood.

“The administration’s decision to recognize the strong ties of immigrants raised in the US is an important step toward a fairer enforcement policy,” said Antonio Ginatta, US advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “These cases highlight the need for Congress to fix US immigration law.”

In a memorandum released on June 15, 2012, US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the department would stop deporting unauthorized immigrants if they have been in the US since before the age of 16, are under 30, and have lived in the United States for at least five years. They also must not have been convicted of a serious criminal offense and must currently be in school, have earned a high school diploma, or have served in the military.

The new policy requirements are similar to those proposed in various versions of the DREAM Act, a proposed law that would provide young immigrants with a path to permanent resident status and eventual citizenship. However, the new policy would not grant legal status, an action that can only be taken by Congress. Rather, unauthorized immigrants who meet the criteria will be eligible to apply for deferred action and work authorization for two years, subject to renewal.

Human Rights Watch has long called for an end to the US “one size fits all” approach to deportation. Prior to this policy change, an unauthorized immigrant who had lived in the US since childhood would have very limited opportunities to prevent their deportation by presenting reasons why they should be permitted to stay.

The Obama administration’s shift in policy brings the US closer to countries that require consideration of a person’s positive attachments to the country of residence in deportation decisions. The laws and practices of 61 countries around the world offer non-citizens an opportunity to raise family unity concerns, proportionality, ties to their country of residence, and other human rights considerations prior to deportation.

The administration should ensure that the new policy is applied consistently and fairly by immigration officials throughout the country, Human Rights Watch said. A recent New York Times article found that a similar decision in November 2011 to focus enforcement efforts on immigrants posing a public safety risk had only resulted in a 2 percent reduction in deportations.

“The Obama administration’s announcement of another incremental step toward a rational approach to immigration should galvanize Congress to take urgent action for more permanent and comprehensive reforms,” Ginatta said.