WASHINGTON – House Republicans, responding to new details of the Obama administration’s plan to allow some young illegal immigrants to apply for work permits and stay temporarily, charged that it could create delays for legal immigrants trying to enter the United States.
“This will lead to a backlog for legal immigrants who followed the rules, while allowing lawbreakers to skip to the front of the line,” Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who heads the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
Obama administration officials released new information about the application process on Friday.
The plan, originally announced in June, is “another example of how the president’s policies put the interests of illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants,” said Smith, who is concerned that applicants will lie about their age and when they came into the United States.
Smith is concerned that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, faced with a surge in paperwork, will be “forced to put off processing legal immigration applications in favor of the illegal immigrant applications.” The government is not hiring more immigration officers to handle the additional work.
Immigration is a polarizing issue in the presidential campaign. The Republican Party has struggled to attract Latino voters in recent years, and Obama’s decision to halt the deportation of some illegal immigrants was seen as a move to energize Latino voters in the run-up to election day.
Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, took a hard line against comprehensive immigration reform during the primaries, but has softened his rhetoric in recent months. Romney hasn’t said whether or not he would eliminate the new rules if elected. But his campaign criticized Obama for playing election-year politics with the immigration issue.
Starting Aug. 15, the Department of Homeland Security will begin receiving applications for “deferred action” from illegal immigrants who were born after June 15, 1981, and were brought to the United States before they turned 16, among other factors. Officials said that the application will be confidential and won’t result in deportation unless the person is a convicted criminal, is considered a national security or public safety threat, or files a fraudulent application.
Applicants will pay $85 to apply to stay for at least two years and $380 to apply for permission to work during that time. They must submit fingerprints, undergo a background check, and prove they have graduated from high school or received a GED, are currently enrolled in school, or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. military.
“The excitement is electric,” said Rep.Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who sees this process as a “stepping stone” to broader immigration reforms. Gutierrez is helping organize events in Chicago on Aug. 15 to celebrate the opening of the application process and assist applicants in filing their paperwork. Advocates have dubbed the date “DREAM Relief Day.”
The change could benefit up to 1.4 million people, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group.
“By spending less time and fewer resources chasing high school and college students, the Department of Homeland Security can spend a lot more time and resources actually securing the homeland,” said Gutierrez.
For the record, 5:00 p.m. Aug. 4: An earlier version of this post said it costs $360 to apply for a work permit. The cost is $380.