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Obama immigration order poses dilemma for eligible illegal immigrants

Jose Diaz-Balart of Telemundo discusses the immigration order with MSNBC-TV's Alex Wagner, NBC News' Luke Russert, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet and BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith.

The Obama administration's announcement Friday that it would defer deporting most young illegal immigrants poses a dilemma for those who are eligible, as they must take a leap of faith that they won't jump to the head of the line for deportation if a future president rescinds the order.

Pete Williams of NBC News and Miranda Leitsinger of msnbc.com contributed to this report by M. Alex Johnson of msnbc.com and Jose Diaz-Balart of Telemundo. Follow M. Alex Johnson on Twitter and Facebook.

Under the order, the Obama administration wouldn't seek to deport illegal immigrants under 30 who entered the U.S. as children and meet certain other residency and education requirements for the next two years. They also would be eligible to apply for work permits, the Department of Homeland Security said. DHS is the parent agency of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The order could apply to as many as 800,000 young illegal immigrants, officials estimated. The Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center, said later that even more immigrants — as many as 1.4 million children and young adults — could meet the eligibility requirements. That would be about 12 percent of the 11.2 million illegal immigrants estimated to be in the U.S. as of 2010.

But it's not at all certain how many of them will seek to take advantage of the order. That's because it requires eligible immigrants to step forward and ask for the deferment every two years.

Even though President Barack Obama said Friday that the order would "lift the shadow of deportation" over illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. while they were children, a future administration could choose to overturn the regulation, jeopardizing those who have identified themselves to the government as illegal immigrants.

A senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the policy Friday on condition of anonymity, conceded that "the executive can always change its mind about how to exercise discretion."

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For Yelky Ramos, 20, a recent college graduate who came from the Dominican Republic when she was 13, the change means she should be able to get a job.

"We just hope that the way they're going to implement it is going to be fair to the undocumented youth and it won't be a trap, in which people will be applying for this type of deferral and then find themselves … (in) legal proceedings that might lead to deportation," Ramos told msnbc.com. 

Even before Obama appeared in the White House Rose Garden to discuss the order Friday afternoon, Democratic campaign officials were trying to place responsibility for any such "trap" on Republicans, sending reporters "talking points" highlighting previous statements on immigration by Mitt Romney. 

Romney, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, has said he would veto an immigration bill known as the DREAM Act, which would enact many of the policies the White House announced Friday. The measure has passed in the Democratic-led House but has been blocked in the Republican-led Senate.

The memos were meant to get the message out that a vote for Romney — who trails Obama by a significant margin among Latino voters — would be a vote to rescind Friday's order.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told NBC News that there was no immediate danger of applicants' being targeted for deportation, saying the order would be binding for the next two years regardless of who is president. That means Romney, if elected in November, could overturn it as early as 2014, however.

Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, praised Obama on Friday for "taking action to avoid further injustices against young people." 

But "a legislative remedy is still needed," he said.

Until one emerges, illegal immigrants must meet a narrowly specific set of requirements to be eligible for immunity, which DHS outlined in an eight-page document Friday:

  • They must be younger than 30.
  • They must have been brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthdays.
  • They must have been in the country for five continuous years.
  • They must have no criminal history.
  • They must have graduated from an American high school, earned an equivalent degree or served in the U.S. military.
  • They must pass a government background check.

Read the full DHS document (.pdf)

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