The White House on Tuesday played host to illegal immigrants who have been granted tentative legal status under President Obama’s non-deportation policies, highlighting the administration’s efforts to protect young illegal immigrants in the interior of the U.S. even as it tried to stop a surge of more children crossing the border.
The young adults, who call themselves Dreamers after the proposed Dream Act legislation, used their White House platform to plead with Mr. Obama to expand his non-deportation policies to include their parents.
Here under the president’s two-year-old program “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” the Dreamers are the most sympathetic in the immigration debate. The White House honored them as “Champions of Change.”
“These eligible young people are American for all intents and purposes other than the country where they were born,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary at the Homeland Security Department.
But the event caused some perception problems for a White House trying to get on top of a huge surge of illegal immigrant children crossing the border right now — children who are drawn to the promise of a future legalization similar to DACA, though the White House says the new children shouldn’t expect that.
“How can we expect to dispel rumors throughout Central America that children who enter America illegally will be allowed to stay, while simultaneously touting the success stories of a few illegal immigrant children granted de facto amnesty by the administration?” said Rep. Candice Miller, a senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.
President Obama was traveling and did not attend Tuesday’s event, having departed the West Lawn at 11:17.
On Monday the White House had said the event with the Dreamers was to begin at 10:30, but pushed it back on Tuesday until 11:30, or just minutes after Mr. Obama’s departure.
The administration is overseeing an immigration system rife with contradictions, including the difference between border enforcement and interior enforcement. The administration has tried to step up punishment for those caught crossing the border, but has taken a lenient approach to illegal immigrants if they can make it into the interior of the U.S.
Critics say the lenient approach for those inside the U.S. has served as a magnet drawing still more illegal immigrants. The administration denies that, saying the surge of unaccompanied children trying to cross the border is due to escalating gang violence in Central America.
As proof, officials say that’s why the children are coming chiefly from three countries — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — rather than from all of Latin America.
More than 500,000 young adults have earned tentative legal status under the DACA program, which grants them a stay of deportation and gives them work permits. Many states have granted them in-state tuition for public colleges and universities, and most states say they are eligible for driver’s licenses.
“DACA has really changed my life,” said Steven Arteaga, one of those honored at the White House.
He was born in Mexico and is here under the DACA program, and said he wants it to be expanded to include his mother, who is here illegally and is still subject to deportation.
While that mother is unlikely to be deported under Mr. Obama’s policies, some immigrant-rights groups say the president should go further and explicitly say the parents of children should be granted tentative legal status.
Sarahi Espinoza, another of the DACA recipients honored on Tuesday, choked up as she recalled her own story of family separation from her mother, who is back in her home country of Mexico.
“This year it’s going to be nine years that I have not seen my mom,” she said.