A major step forward on immigration

Janet Napolitano is secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Napolitano, former governor of Arizona, wrote this for The Miami Herald last week.

Beginning this week, our country will take another important step forward in creating a more just and efficient immigration system. Effective immediately, certain young people who were brought to the United States as children and meet certain guidelines will be eligible, through a new process, to remain here by requesting consideration of deferred action.

Like any prosecutor's office that operates with finite resources, the Department of Homeland Security has established clear priorities governing its enforcement and removal efforts. These priorities focus on individuals who have criminal convictions, are recent border crossers, or who have repeat immigration violations. These priorities are producing concrete results: 90 percent of removals last year fell within these stated priorities. And DHS removed more felons in the past two years than ever before in its history.

Our focus on removing those who pose a threat to our communities can be strengthened even further by preventing low-priority cases from overwhelming our resources. Young people, who were brought to this country as children and who are among our lowest enforcement priorities, make a compelling case for deferred action by DHS, meaning temporarily suspending their removal from the United States. Accordingly, young people who meet specified guidelines, and pay related fees, may now begin requesting consideration for two-year deferred action (subject to renewal) and for work authorization.

This is about young people who study in our schools, grow up in our communities, and contribute to our country in meaningful ways. Many have spent almost their entire lives in America and only know this country as their home. They are Americans in every way but one: on paper.

While this consideration of deferred action is a temporary measure -- Congress must still act to provide a permanent solution to fix the current patchwork of laws -- it is a logical next step in our efforts to transform our immigration enforcement by making it more efficient, productive, and fair. Deferred action is an appropriate, common sense use of an existing authority that allows us to prioritize immigration enforcement and ensure our resources are not spent pursuing the removal of those who do not present a risk to public safety or national security. To be eligible for consideration through this process, individuals must complete a background check and must demonstrate, through verifiable documentation, that they meet the specified guidelines regarding age, place of residence, and the like.

Our nation's immigration laws must continue to be enforced in a strong and sensible manner. But they were never intended to be blindly enforced without considering the individual circumstances of each case. By deferring action where appropriate, we can continue to improve our ability to remove threats to public safety while allowing deserving young people who love our country and call it home the opportunity to contribute even more to America.

President Obama put it right when he said, "This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people. It is the right thing to do."