By Benjamin Goad - 06/15/13 02:03 PM EDT
President Obama on Saturday declared his administration’s decision to halt deportations of certain undocumented young people the right call, and urged Congress to build on the action by approving the Senate immigration bill.
His remarks come on the anniversary of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Under the program, illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as kids, don’t pose a threat to national security or public safety and meet other criteria can apply for relief from deportation proceedings.
Those accepted are known as “Dreamers,” a reference to the failed DREAM Act, which contained similar provisions.
“These young men and women are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every way but on paper,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. “And because the Administration acted, today thousands of ambitious, hardworking young people have been able to emerge from the shadows, no longer living in fear of deportation.”
Since the program’s inception, nearly 300,000 applicants have been approved for deferred action, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data shows.
The May 9 figures show that 497,960 applications have been accepted, and deferred action has been approved in 291,859 cases.
“By removing the threat of deportation for people brought to the country as children, we were able to continue to focus our enforcement efforts on criminals who endanger our communities rather than students who are pursuing an education,” Obama said.
He called on the Senate to approve sweeping legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. That legislation, crafted by the bipartisan Gang of Eight of senators is being debated in the upper chamber.
“[T]he steps we took were never meant to be a permanent solution," Obama said. "That's why we need Congress to pass a bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform bill as soon as possible so that these "Dreamers" can keep contributing to this country and help us live up to our history as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants."