Administration defends immigration plan as applications to defer deportation open

The Obama administration plans to begin accepting applications Wednesday for certain young illegal immigrants to defer their deportation.

ADVERTISEMENT
The new immigration policy is quickly becoming a campaign issue as Republicans attempt to cast President Obama in a negative light by saying the move offers certain illegal aliens “amnesty,” opens up opportunities for fraud and will jeopardize jobs for U.S. citizens.

The administration defended the change in policy on Tuesday as it outlined some of the details about the application process to reporters, saying that they have set up a fraud detection unit with stiff penalties, established mandatory fees so the program will fund itself and are planning to deport applicants with felony records.

Attempting to get ahead of the GOP critics, Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinClinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Reid backs House Puerto Rico bill McConnell pledges redo vote on Zika after break MORE (D-Ill.), Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis GutierrezIsrael’s false friends Hispanic lawmakers face painful decision on Puerto Rico Frustration with White House builds in Hispanic caucus MORE (D-Ill.) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are planning to hold a workshop Wednesday morning in the Windy City to answer any questions illegal immigrants might have in considering whether to apply for the deferred deportation.

Under the new policy, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is able to exercise prosecutorial discretion for certain illegal immigrants under the age of 30 who wish to defer their deportation from the country.

The administration’s move is not a permanent fix; it bypassed Congress’s approval in the wake of stalled legislation that addresses similar immigration changes.

Some Republicans have claimed that by circumventing Congress, the administration has violated the Constitution. And Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a staunch Tea Party supporter, has promised to sue the administration over the changes.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has frequently lambasted the White House for the move and, in a statement on Tuesday, painted the immigration shift as a job-killer and an issue that could cost Obama the election.

“President Obama and his administration routinely put partisan politics and illegal immigrants ahead of the rule of law and the American people,” said Smith. “With this track record, it’s looking more likely that even President Obama may lose his job in this economy when Americans go to the polls this November.”

Under the new rules, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will require eligible illegal immigrant applicants to apply for two-year work permits if they submit forms to be considered for deferred deportation, according to the agency’s director, Alejandro Mayorkas.

The administration attempted to shoot holes in several of Smith’s criticisms on Tuesday.

In one of the Republican’s objections, Smith claimed that the administration has not established a system to combat fraud. He called the new immigration policy “a magnet for fraud and abuse,” and said that “there seems to be little, if any, mechanism in place for vetting fraudulent applications and documentation submitted by illegal immigrants.”

The administration, however, said on Tuesday that it has set up a thorough fraud detection unit that is equipped to closely comb through applications and records for attempts to scam the system.

“Each request for consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals will be examined for potential fraud and reviewed on an individual case-by-case basis following the completion of a thorough background check,” said Mayorkas.

A senior administration official, who refused to be identified on the record, said that any applicant who commits fraud will be referred to immigration enforcement authorities and treated as a priority for removal. He or she also may be criminally prosecuted, the official said.

Smith also claimed that there is no fee for the application process, and so taxpayers will be left to foot the bill.

“Because there is no fee for the amnesty application, American taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for President Obama’s amnesty when the administration comes running to Congress for more money to clear the backlog created by the program,” said Smith.

But USCIS Director Mayorkas said it will cost $465 for eligible illegal immigrants to submit an application, which will include a biometrics and background check and is expected to fund the cost of the new immigration program.

Applicants will also have to prove with documentation that they financially need work, and that they are in school or a job-training program. The senior administration official on Tuesday told reporters that DHS is prepared to deal with any number of young applicants, but that it did not have specific estimates for how many would come forward.