Beginning Wednesday, young people who came to this country illegally as children, have lived here continuously since then while staying out of trouble, may begin applying for a kind of deportation clemency being offered by the Obama Administration.
Nationally, this so-called deferred action, good for two years, could extend to as many as 1.7 million illegal immigrants between 15 and 30 who are either enrolled in school or have graduated. An estimated 30,000 of them are in Washington state.
Those who show a need will also be eligible for work permits.
Immigrant advocacy groups have hailed the program, first announced by the Department of Homeland Security in June, as a positive step for people who, through no fault of their own, must deal with an unlawful status that places barriers before them.
Now with work permits, thousands of illegal immigrants who have graduated from college will be able to pursue legitimate employment in their chosen fields.
Those who oppose illegal immigration, however, have called Obama’s plan de facto amnesty – a wrongheaded political move that will allow illegal immigrants to compete for scarce jobs at a time when millions of Americans – many of them young people – are already out of work.
The program also isn’t without risk.
While those granted deferred action may apply to have it extended beyond the two years, it is not clear, for example, what happens once the program expires in two years, or if Obama is defeated in November.
Deferred action does not extend any kind of legal status or pathway to citizenship for young people. It also requires young people to provide some identifying information not just for themselves but also for those in their households, a requirement some worry could lead to others being targeted for removal.
Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups across the state are planning a series of town hall meetings, workshops and clinics to help young people better understand the program and apply for deferred action.
Read more information about the program here.