In the wake of President Obama's announcement last night to extend deferred action initiatives to undocumented immigrants, it is important to understand that such action is not amnesty, nor does it grant legal status to undocumented immigrants as suggested by various media outlets.
The term "amnesty" means a pardon or forgiveness. Past immigration amnesties were pardons, forgiving undocumented immigrants who were in the United States, providing them a pathway to become green card holders first, and eventually US Citizens.
Deferred action is not a pardon or forgiveness. In fact, it does not provide a pathway to obtain permanent resident status (green card) or US Citizenship. Simply put, in this context, it is the government's decision not to place certain undocumented immigrants in immigration court, (deportation or removal proceedings). It is an act of prosecutorial discretion. While undocumented immigrants who qualify for this prosecutorial discretion will be eligible to apply for work authorization, they will not be entitled to other government benefits as they would be if they were granted amnesty.
Accordingly, stating that these undocumented immigrants who will benefit from President Obama's actions will be given legal status and be pardoned for their immigration violations is inaccurate. They will merely be protected for a set period of time from deportation, with no clear path to obtain permanent legal status in the United States.