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US gov't approves 1st batch of work permits for illegal immigrants

WASHINGTON -- Just three weeks after the Obama administration started accepting applications from young illegal immigrants seeking to avoid deportation and get a work permit, the government already has approved some of the roughly 72,000 applications the government has received.

The Homeland Security Department said Tuesday that a small group of applications has been approved and those immigrants are being notified this week about the decision. The department did not say how many applications had been approved.

The first wave of approvals comes months head of Homeland Security's own internal estimates of how long the application process for the administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program could take — and less than 60 days before the Nov. 6 elections. According to an internal Homeland Security document obtained by The Associated Press, the department's Citizenship and Immigration Services had estimated that each application could take several months to be completed.

“Following a thorough, individualized case review, USCIS has now begun notifying individuals of the determination on their deferral requests,” Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard said in a statement. He said about 72,000 applications have been received since the program's Aug. 15 start.

President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced on June 15 that young illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. before they turned 16, are 30 or younger, are high school graduates or are in college or have served in the military would be eligible to apply to avoid deportation for up to two years and get a work permit. The immigrants also could not have a serious criminal record.

The policy change came just months before what is shaping up to be a tight presidential election. Wooing Hispanic and Latino voters has been considered key to helping Obama win a second term.

The plan to halt deportations for as many as 1.7 million illegal immigrants closely mirrors the failed DREAM Act, a bill that would have provided a path to legalization for many of the same immigrants expected to benefit from the government' deferred action policy. The new policy does not provide legal status for the immigrants, but instead puts off possible deportation for up to two years.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has not said what he would do with Obama's policy if he is elected. He has previously pledged to veto the DREAM Act should it cross his desk. DREAM stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.

Republicans have uniformly criticized Obama's policy, as well as previous Homeland Security decisions to stop deporting many illegal immigrants who do not have criminal records or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Rep. Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has derided the policy as “backdoor amnesty” and said he worried about fraud.

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