New Policy Gives Hope To Some Facing Deportation

Aug 21, 2011

The Obama administration on Thursday said it would review the deportation cases of 300,000 illegal immigrants.

The policy might make a difference to thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children because the administration wants to put high priority on removing convicted criminals, and low priority on cases that involve people who pose no security threat.

Melissa, a high school student in Central Florida, came to the U.S. from her native Honduras with the help of smugglers when she was 7 years old. She has no criminal convictions, though her attorney didn't want her real name used for this story.

When Melissa heard the White House announcement, she said it gave her hope for the future and a hope that she no longer had to "be afraid [that] they're going to send me back."

"It's a pretty good thing, it makes me feel good [and] it makes me feel sure of what I'm doing now," Melissa said.

Life over the past six years has been a struggle for Melissa. She got caught in an immigration raid and recently lost her political asylum case at the highest level she could appeal to.

That's when she was told she had to go back to Honduras.

"I gave up everything," she said. "I didn't care about school, because to me it was like I lost everything here. There is no one over there that I can make proud. My whole family is here."

Melissa is the only person in her family without legal status. She was recently granted permission to stay in the country for one year, and that might happen for more people in situations similar to her.

The White House announcement formalizes a policy of tolerance for undocumented immigrants with no criminal record, but critics say it does more than that.

Kristen Williamson with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that wants tougher enforcement on illegal immigration, says the Obama administration is bypassing Congress to loosen immigration laws.

"They're telling everyone, in making it public, that any illegal alien without a criminal record ... is now allowed to stay in the country and apply for a work Visa," Williamson says.

Not true, says Cheryl Little with the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. She says the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not in removal proceedings and they can only qualify for temporary status if they're facing deportation.

"I'm concerned its going to provide false hope that truly meaningful change is forthcoming," Little says. "Those who have been placed in deportation proceedings now have some hope that they can get a work permit and a valid driver's license, while those who have not are out of luck."

In a way, Cheryl says Melissa is lucky she's in the system, because now she can temporarily live in the U.S. lawfully.

This report is part of NPR's StateImpact project.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.