The Obama administration's announcement that it will stop deporting younger illegal immigrants and begin granting work permits was embraced by students in New York who said the plan will allow them to pursue their ambitions.
At the Manhattan office of the New York Immigration Coalition, a group of activists and students directly affected by the new policy gathered Friday to watch President Barack Obama announce the plan on television.
“I feel confident, I feel relief,” said Yohan Garcia, 25, a junior at Hunter College who came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico when he was 15. “This is definitely a dream that has come to be real.”
The policy change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants nationwide who have lived under the fear of deportation. It also bypasses Congress and achieves some of the goals of the legislation known as the DREAM Act, a plan to establish a path to citizenship for young people who came to the country illegally, but have attended college or served in the military.
Under the administration’s plan, illegal immigrants will not face deportation if they came to the U.S. before they turned 16 and are under 30 years old, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a high school in this country or earned a GED, or served in the military.
Those who fall within the guidelines will be able to apply for a two-year work permit with no limit on how many times it can be renewed.
"Let's be clear, this is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship, this is not a permanent fix," Obama said from the White House Rose Garden. "This is the right thing to do."
Opponents of the policy accused Obama of defying congressional authority.
“Over the past 10 years, Congress has repeatedly rejected the DREAM Act,” Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform said in a statement. “Now, five months before the presidential election, the Obama administration is unilaterally rewriting our immigration laws.”
While the new policy does not create a path to citizenship, as the DREAM Act would, it will allow eligible immigrants to work legally and remain in the country for extended periods.
Approximately 3,600 illegal immigrants graduate high school in New York state each year, and another estimated 1,700 enter college, according to a report by the Fiscal Policy Institute.
“For many of us who went on and got that degree, it’s important that we’re finally going to be able to use it,” said Garcia, who said he received his associate degree from the Borough of Manhattan Community College and is now pursuing a major in political science at Hunter.
Mubashar Ahmed, a 22 year-old illegal immigrant originally from Pakistan who watched the president’s speech, said he was ecstatic about the news that he could now pursue a career in the U.S.
Just yesterday, Ahmed, a senior at City College who is majoring in chemical engineering, was applying for jobs abroad, believing he could never work legally within this country in his chosen field.
“Now, I”ll be able to do what I love and I’ll have the same chances that my friends that are graduating with me have,” Ahmed said.
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