WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) -- The United States government on Friday announced a new policy in which certain illegal immigrants will be allowed to remain in the country.
In the announcement, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano said that, effective immediately, certain young people who were brought to the United States as young children and do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be considered for an exemption from deportation hearings. Those who meet the criteria will be eligible to gain work authorization.
"Our nation's immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner," Napolitano said. "But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here."
To be eligible for the benefits of the new policy, the illegal immigrant must be below the age of 30, have come to the United States before he or she reached the age of 16, they must have permanently resided in the United States for at least five years, they must be in school, have graduated from a school or be in the military, and they must not have been convicted of a felony.
DHS said in a statement that they will continue to focus their energy on the removal of individuals who pose a national security or public safety risk, including immigrants convicted of crimes, violent criminals, felons, and repeat immigration law offenders. It went on to say that the policy change enhances the department's ability to focus on this.
Later on Friday, President Barack Obama made the public announcement in a speech from the Rose Garden of the White House.
"These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they're friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag," Obama said. "They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents -- sometimes even as infants -- and often have no idea that they're undocumented until they apply for a job or a driver's license, or a college scholarship."
He added: "Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you've done everything right your entire life -- studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class -- only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak."
The U.S. government estimates the policy change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation.
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