GARY, Ind. (AP) -- Indiana agencies that work with illegal immigrants say President Barack Obama's decision to stop deporting those who came to the U.S. as children will help many people who have been assimilated into American culture and lack the experience of growing up in their native countries.
The Obama administration said the change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the "DREAM Act," legislation that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who went to college or served in the military.
Lawrence Sharp, executive director of the International Community Alliance in Gary, said the new policy will help illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. since childhood become fully engaged members of this country.
"If they had to go back to Mexico, they probably couldn't operate," Sharp, whose agency works with immigrants, told the Post-Tribune (http://bit.ly/LVN0Gt ).
Most of them have gone to high school and college and generally obey U.S. laws, Sharp said. The biggest violation for many of them is driving without a license, which they cannot obtain if they're not in the country legally, he said.
Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be able to avoid deportation if they can prove they were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.
Likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney responded to the policy change by saying the status of younger illegal immigrants was important and should be addressed with legislation. He would not say if he would reverse the policy.
However, some conservatives vehemently disagree with the new policy, even while expressing compassion for illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children. They say Obama's unilateral action by executive order deliberately skirted the law.
Adeline Torres, head of Hispanic services for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gary, said the church has started working on getting information out to local immigrants.
"This is going to help a lot of kids, especially the ones in school right now or the ones wanting to go to school," she said.
It's in the country's interest to make sure these immigrant children are well-educated so they can help pay taxes and support struggling programs such as Social Security, she said.
Torres also stressed that it has become much more difficult to become a citizen than it was when current citizens' ancestors came to America. The waiting time now can last 12 to 20 years.
Sharp said the new policy also will help the parents of the affected immigrants. Many often are embarrassed about the situation they've put their children in, he said, so the new policy also will give them some relief.
Information from: Post-Tribune, http:// www.post-trib.com