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Many Immigrants In U.S. Can Soon Avoid Deportation


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Next week hundreds of thousands more people who are living illegally in the United States now can apply to avoid deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has been expanded under President Obama. His other immigration proposals are expected to take effect in the spring, but many Republicans in Congress are working to try to stop the president's actions, which they see as executive overreach. Alan Gomez joins us now from the studios of WLRN in Miami. He covers immigration for USA Today. Mr. Gomez, thanks so much for being with us.

ALAN GOMEZ: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And first, explain what's changed about the Deferred Action program.

GOMEZ: Well, before, when the president first created this program back in 2012, it was designed for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children under the age of 16, but he limited the group. They couldn't be over 31 at the time that they were applying, so they were trying to cater it to the ones who are still in that younger bracket. But what he did was just expand it, so there's no more age limit. And that's going to include up to about 300,000 additional people who can now qualify for the program.

SIMON: The House passed a bill earlier this week to fund the Department of Homeland Security and it included a number of amendments that would prevent a number of President Obama's immigration ideas from taking shape. Where does that stand now?

GOMEZ: Oh, man. That is bringing the government to the brink of a shutdown - at least a partial one. Basically what the House has done is they've been very much opposed to the president's actions on immigration for the last few years - since that 2012 order to first create DACA. So what they finally did this time is they used the funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security - an incredibly critical piece of legislation that has to pass by February 27 before the department runs out of funding - and they attached an amendment that would stop the president's, you know, his new order - the one he just announced - but also rescind all the protections that the administration has already granted to over 600,000 of these dreamers that we're talking about.

And now Congress is going on a recess for a week and they're just going to have a few more days before that February 27 deadline when they get back to figure out a solution. The Senate says the House has to start doing something else. The House says the Senate has to go ahead and take up this bill and figure it out, and both leaders are saying that they don't want to shut down, but it looks increasingly likely as we get closer.

SIMON: The Obama administration quite notably raised the number of deportations to an all-time high. What's that status now?

GOMEZ: I mean, that keeps going, and this is where it gets incredibly tricky when it comes to the president trying to handle this immigration issue. You know, on the one hand, he's being accused by all sorts of immigration activist groups for being the deporter in chief, as many of them have taken to calling him. He deports on average about 400,000 undocumented immigrants a year, each year setting a new record, but at the same time Republicans are saying that the ones he's - that he's really not deporting that many. That he's just kind of catching people at the border and sending them back and counting them in his tally. And so, yeah, they think he's just not doing his job. So he's basically getting hammered on both sides of this no matter what he does.

SIMON: Alan Gomez covers immigration for USA Today. Thanks very much for being with us.

GOMEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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