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Dream Act students cheer Obama's immigration enforcement policy

August 18, 2011 |  2:55 pm

Supporters of the Dream Act take part in a demonstration in front of the White House June 29.

The news that the Obama administration was planning to halt virtually all deportations of Dream Act students and possibly their families  drew cheers and applause from several students and immigrant rights activists who gathered at the downtown Los Angeles office of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

"This is huge," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the coalition, which has long lobbied for the measures announced Thursday. "This is wonderful for all the families who are currently facing deportation."

She said, however, that she remained cautious to see if the administration would actually enact what it pledged to do. "If they do what they say they'll do, this is good."

Pedro Trujillo, an undocumented Cal State Northridge student, greeted the news with a big grin and a double thumbs-up. Trujillo was brought to Los Angeles from Mexico at the age of 6, entered Bravo Medical Magnet High School and hopes to become a middle-school history teacher. An immigrant rights activist, Trujillo helped raise money for a fellow undocumented student facing deportation last year and traveled to Arizona to protest a controversial anti-illegal immigrant law. His mother cried in fear that he would be caught and deported, he said, but the announcement Thursday may mean he will not become subject to deportation proceedings.

"It's going to be a life-changer for many people who have been around raids in the fields, construction sites and sweatshops," said Trujillo, one of several students at the group’s office. "It's  a huge weight off our backs."

The Obama administration announced Thursday that undocumented students and other low-priority immigration offenders would not be targeted for deportation under its immigration enforcement programs. These eligible students are those who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children by their parents.

The move means that those who are in deportation proceedings will have their cases reviewed and, if they are set aside as low-priority, could possibly be given work permits. Low-priority individuals will also be less likely to end up in deportation proceedings, officials said.

"There are 300,000 in the caseload who will be looked at, one at a time," said a senior administration official.

The announcement immediately drew attacks from critics who said that the policy amounts to an “administrative” amnesty program without approval by Congress.

“Today’s policy announcement clearly demonstrates the Obama administration’s defiance of both the constitutional separation of powers and the will of the American public in its relentless effort to gain amnesty for illegal aliens,” stated Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “From the outset, the administration has refused to enforce many immigration laws, essentially placing its own political agenda ahead of its constitutional responsibilities to carry out laws enacted by Congress.”

The announcement comes at the same time that hundreds of documents were released that a federal judge says show immigration officials misled states and local governments on how the so-called Secure Communities enforcement program would work.

“There is ample evidence that ICE and DHS have gone out of their way to mislead the public about Secure Communities,” U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin wrote in an opinion on the release of the documents. “In particular, these agencies have failed to acknowledge a shift in policy when it is patently obvious -- from public documents and statements -- that there has been one.”

The documents show immigration officials struggling with whether the Secure Communities program is voluntary or mandatory for state and local agencies and changing its messaging to the public after some localities tried to opt out of the program. The U.S. Homeland Security fingerprint-sharing program uses prints collected by state and local police to help immigration authorities identify and deport tens of thousands of people each year.

The new revelations come as organized opposition to the program steps up with several protests around the country in the last few days. It also comes just weeks after U.S. Homeland Security told governors that the program did not need their approval to operate and that it was voiding agreements signed to authorize their states' participation. The documents were released as part of an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

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--Teresa Watanabe and Paloma Esquivel

Photo: Supporters of the Dream Act take part in a demonstration in front of the White House on June 29. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

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