Immigration

President Obama’s latest executive actions make a few big changes and several smaller changes to immigration policy.

1. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) will be expanded.

President Obama isn’t new to immigration reform. His recent executive actions regarding immigration aren’t his first changes to immigration policy. In 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) was put into place. Childhood arrivals are people who illegally entered the United States when they were younger than 16. DACA allows eligible immigrants to apply for deferred government action. Deferred action enables the government to make a formal determination not to pursue deportation of an unlawfully present individual for a specific period of time. (After the specified amount of time, eligible immigrants must reapply to maintain their status of deferred action with the government.)

2012 through present:

  • DACA grants deferred action for two years.
  • Eligible applicants for this program must have been in the U.S. since 2007.
  • Eligible applicants must have entered the U.S. when they were younger than 16.
  • Eligible applicants must have been younger than 30 as of 2012.
  • Eligible applicants must have graduated from high school, have a GED, or be in high school
  • Eligible applicants must not have a serious criminal record.

Under the new executive actions:

  • DACA will cover immigrants who are older than 30 (but still came to the U.S. when they were younger than 16)
  • DACA will cover immigrants who entered between 2007 and 2011
  • Deferred action will last for 3 years, not just 2. 

2. Parents of U.S. citizens or green card holders will be able to get deferred action.

This program will run similarly to DACA. Eligible immigrants will be given deferred action for three years. Parents of U.S. citizens or green card holders who have been in the country for at least five years qualify as eligible immigrants. They are eligible even if their children are over the age of eighteen. This new program will cover about 4 million people.

These first two actions are not a path to citizenship or legal status. Only Congress is allowed to grant that. This will give immigrants who qualify and apply three years during which they won’t be deported. However, if they don’t reapply after three years or if the program ends, they could be deported.

3. The Secure Communities program will be reformed.

Secure communities is a program that sends the fingerprints of anyone booked in a local jail to immigration officers. Immigration officials can then request that local police hold the inmate until immigration officials can pick him up. This program will be reformed. Secure communities has been used to deport unauthorized immigrants who aren’t serious criminals. Now it will only be used to deport immigrants who have committed a serious crime. Also, rather than asking police to hold a person past the date when he was supposed to be released, immigration officials will just ask when he is to be released and then pick him up.

4. Deportation priorities will be reformed.

New priorities focus on undocumented immigrants who have committed a serious crime and undocumented immigrants who entered the United States in 2014. If someone doesn’t meet the priorities, agents will have to prove to their office director why that person should be deported.

5. Border security will be increased.

6. Spouses of green card holders will now be able to apply for legal status in the United States.

7. Foreign students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) will be allowed to work in the United States for up to 2.5 years after they graduate.

This program is called Optional Practical Training. Currently, STEM students can stay in the country for up to 17 months.

8. It will be easier for foreign entrepreneurs to get visas.  

Opposing views

Some people, especially members of the Republican party, question the President’s decision to take these executive actions. Some have argued that deferred action is only supposed to be used in specific cases not on a large scale, while others think he should have waited for congress to pass a bill. Republicans can try to stop this action in a few ways. Congress may attempt to pass a law to diminish presidential authority over deferred action. (However, President Obama would probably veto it.) Congress may attach riders to the annual appropriations bills that would end the immigrations programs. If such bills would be vetoed or if Democrats filibuster them the government could shut down. Republicans could also try to sue the administration. Congress cannot take away funding  for the new program because the US Citizenship and Immigration Services is funded by application fees and not by congressional appropriations. Politically, republicans will try to make this work for them by saying that President Obama has flip-flopped. (Previously, the President didn’t believe he had the power to take action on immigration policy.)

Others believe that President Obama’s executive actions were beneficial.The thought behind granting deferred action to parents of citizens and green card holders is that these people will be eligible for legal status eventually. U.S. citizens can apply for their parents to get legal status when they are 21. However, it is hard for the parents to gain legal status if they’ve ever been unauthorized. Also, before their children are 21, they can’t apply for legal status. So, this allows them to stay in the country until they can get lasting legal status through their children.

Concerning secure communities, many cities and states have already stated that they will only honor federal requests to pick up an immigrant in some circumstances, and the government is just following their example.

For the deferred action programs to be effective, people will need to apply. This could be difficult, but the already existing DACA program provides some pre existing framework. However, it is important to note that, if a republican president is elected, he could end this program. A future president could even use information from the program to find and deport immigrants who were protected. For the program to be effective, democrats need to express how safe the program is. But politically they’ll want to show how the program is unstable in order to have a high voter turnout.

4.5 million American children have at least one parent who is an undocumented immigrant. If a child’s parents are deported, the child is put in foster care. If the parents are in a detention center or another country, it is hard for them to be involved in custody hearings.  Children are often put up for adoption without notifying their parents or against their parents’ wishes. Separating families doesn’t help anyone. Children whose parents are deported are more likely to fall behind in school. Deporting parents doesn’t make it less likely for people to illegally enter the country. The new program and deportation priorities put in place by President Obama should prevent these families from being broken up.

Sources

Gomez, Alan. “Highlights from Obama’s Immigration Plan.” USA Today. Gannett, 20 Nov. 2014 Web. 23 Nov. 2014.

Lind, Dara. “Obama’s Huge New Immigration Plan, Explained.” Vox. Vox Media, 21 Nov. 2014 Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

Vaughn, Jessica. “What Is Deferred Action?” Center for Immigration Studies. N.p., 15 June 2012 Web. 22 Nov. 2014.