Last week President Obama announced he will take series of executive actions designed to strengthen the border, hold undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents accountable by giving them a chance to register, pass criminal background checks and pay taxes. The Administration also plans to use the existing immigration law to promote investment and make the immigration system work better until Congress finally passes immigration reform.
1. There's Nothing to Apply for Yet And Immigrants Should Be Careful Not to Get Scammed.
While the President has a released a broad outline of his immigration executive actions, the details, including the application process, have not been finalized. In other words, there is nothing to apply for yet and potential applicants should heed the warning posted on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's website:
Important notice: These initiatives have not yet been implemented, and USCIS is not accepting any requests or applications at this time. Beware of anyone who offers to help you submit an application or a request for any of these actions before they are available. You could become a victim of an immigration scam.
2. The Deferred Action Program Will Apply Only to The Undocumented Parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents.
Perhaps the most dramatic of the executive actions is the President's decision to offer a temporary deportation reprieve -- formally known as Deferred Action -- to undocumented immigrants with U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident children.
The intent is to give parents a chance to come out of the shadows and get right with the law -- register, pass criminal background checks and pay taxes.
To qualify an applicant will have to show, among other things, that he/she has been in the U.S. since before January 1, 2010, and is the parent of a citizen or lawful permanent resident born on or before November 20, 2014. The Administration hopes to have the application process in place within 180 days.
3. DACA Will Be Expanded To Make More DREAMERs Eligible.
Two years ago Mr. Obama offered a temporary deportation reprieve to qualified undocumented youth who had arrived in the U.S. as children. The process, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, brought hundreds of thousands of DREAMERs out of the shadows so they could work and study. To be eligible a DREAMER had to show, among other things, that he/she had arrived before June 15, 2007 and been in the U.S. and under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012. While the process was a game changer for many DREAMERs, others did not qualify because of the entry deadline and age cap.
The executive actions will extend the entry requirement to June 1, 2010 and remove the age cap, permitting many more DREAMERs qualify for a temporary 3 year reprieve from deportation.
While the expanded DACA program is not yet in place, it is expected that the USCIS will begin receiving applications within 90 days.
4. Provisional Family Unity Waivers Will Be Expanded to Included the Undocumented Husbands and Wives Of Lawful Permanent Residents.
Most people think that if an undocumented immigrant marries a U.S. citizen or lawful resident he/she can get a green card. That's both right and wrong. Many undocumented immigrants who qualify for a visa must apply at a U.S. consulate abroad, not from within the US. But when they leave the U.S. to apply, another part of the law bans them from returning for up to ten years.
The pain of this legal Catch-22 was eased somewhat in 2013 when the Obama Administration tweaked the application process so that undocumented husbands and wives of U.S. citizens could apply for family unity waivers before traveling abroad. The change spared many American families from the pain of prolonged separation from a loved one while he/she traveled abroad and waited -- sometimes for years -- for the waiver to be processed.
The executive actions announced last week tweak the Family Unity Waiver process a bit more by a permitting undocumented spouses of lawful permanent residents (green card holders) to apply for waivers before departing the U.S, shielding many more American families from the pain of prolonged separation. The change will also save tax dollars by making the visa processing system more efficient and reducing the burden on government agencies.
5. Family Unity Will (Hopefully) Become the Rule Rather Than the Exception.
Some immigrants that are eligible for green cards first have to prove that their deportation would impose "extreme hardship" on their U.S. citizen or lawful resident spouse, parent or child.
The executive actions promise a new interpretation of "extreme hardship" which, hopefully, will recognize that separating parents from (American) children or spouses from (American) spouses is, by nature, an "extreme hardship." A pro-family interpretation of the standard would ensure that, absent negative factors, more families remain whole.
Stay tuned on this one.
6. Immigrants With Green Card Applications or Other Temporary Status May Travel Abroad With Greater Assurance of Their Ability to Return.
The legal Catch-22 that keeps husbands and wives separated from their families for up to 10 years after foreign travel can also bar immigrants with lawful green card applications or other temporary status -- even if they traveled home to visit an elderly parent or attend a funeral with advance permission (parole) from the Department of Homeland Security.
The President's executive actions will give greater assurances to immigrants that they will be permitted to return to the U.S. and complete their pending green card applications or continue their authorized presence after necessary foreign travel on advance parole.
7. Existing Law Will Be Used to Expand Opportunities for Business, Investment and Job Creation.
The executive actions will include efforts to strengthen the economy and create jobs for U.S. workers by enhancing options for foreign entrepreneurs, attracting investment and generating tax revenue to ensure economic growth and extending existing post-graduate training programs for science, technology, engineering and math graduates of U.S universities. The Administration will also look for ways to improve the legal immigration system by reducing government costs, reducing burdens on employers and families and eliminating fraud.
8. The President's Immigration Executive Actions Are An Important First Step, But They Are Not A Substitute Congressional Action.
The actions Mr. Obama has taken to make the immigration system work better are a bold and courageous (and yes-solidly legal) use of his lawful authority as President of the United States. But only Congress has the power to fix the antiquated, rigid and outdated immigration policy that plagues this country, devastates families, stymies American business and inhibits job creation.
We can only hope that amid the calls for lawsuits and legislation to block the President's executive actions Republican congressional leaders will find the guts to do the right thing by the American People.