One measly year: That's the only thing standing in the way of Jose Antonio Vargas being granted a work permit to safely live in the U.S. under the new U.S. immigration rules announced today. The news that the Obama administration will offer immunity to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children is clearly a milestone for the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose been rallying for the policy change ever since he outed himself as an illegal immigrant last year. Still, a certain element of today's news must be a tad bittersweet given that he falls just one year short of being eligible to apply for immunity. The AP's Alicia Caldwell explains the eligibility requirements:
Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States 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.
After looking over the requirements, Vargas, who in the last 11 months has transitioned from being a journalist to an immigration reform advocate, tweeted:
The new policy does not lead to citizenship, however, it does allow younger immigrants to work legally in the U.S. and removes the threat of deportation—a threat Vargas wrote extensively about in his cover story for Time published yesterday:
I spend every day wondering what, if anything, the government plans to do with me ... Before I came out, the question always at the top of my mind was, What will happen if people find out? Afterward, the question changed to What happens now? It seemed I had traded a largely hidden undocumented life in limbo for an openly undocumented life that’s still in limbo.
Obviously though, given that the new changes will affect an estimated 800,000 immigrants, this isn't a day that Vargas will be sulking. After all, the policy change satisfies one of the main driving points of his one-year campaign. "The real political flash point is the proposed Dream Act, a decade-old immigration bill that would provide a path to citizenship for young people educated in this country," he wrote yesterday. As many observers have already pointed out, President Obama's new policy change is about as close to the Dream Act as you can get. If you look at the legislation, which has been held up in Congress for years, the policy is almost identical:
The legislation is designed to grant legal status to illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children. To qualify under the latest version of the bill, an illegal immigrant must:
- Have arrived in the U.S. before age 16
- Have resided in the U.S. for five consecutive years since arriving
- If male, have registered with the Selective Service .
- Have graduated from an American high school, obtained a GED or been admitted to an institution of higher education
As a result, you're likely to see nothing but smiles from Vargas today:
Update: You can read Vargas's statement on the policy change here.