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EXECUTIVE REFORMS TO IMMIGRATION: Top Six Changes

1 Dec

immigration_reform

The President’s executive reforms to the U.S. immigration system make a number of very positive changes that have the potential to help millions of people.  Although we have written about various components of the reforms individually, we have summarized six major portions here in one place.

Benach Ragland will be offering several free community meetings throughout December and will be offering reduced fee consultations for people who may benefit from these reforms.  To get the latest information about where we will be, please “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter: @benachragland.  To schedule a reduced fee consultation, please email: consult@benachragland.com or call 202-644-8600.

  • Deferred Action for the Parents of U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents

The centerpiece of the President’s immigration reforms announced yesterday is the expansion of deferred action to cover certain foreign national parents of United States citizens. Here are the details:

The U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service will give deferred action and employment authorization to individuals who:

  • As of November 20, 2014, have a son or daughter who is a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident.
  • Entered the U.S. prior to January 1, 2010
  • Are not in lawful status as of November 20, 2014
  • Are not an enforcement priority
  • Do not present other factors that weigh against a favorable exercise of discretion

People who fall within the DHS’ new enforcement priorities will be ineligible for deferred action.  With a new memo issued today, Nobama immigration reformovember 20, 2014, the DHS has revised the enforcement priorities for the agency.  The new enforcement priorities are divided into three levels of priority of decreasing priority.  Presumably, those not within the enforcement priorities memo are not enforcement priorities and should qualify for benefits and not be subject to efforts to seek removal. We have summarized the new enforcement priorities memo here.

Applicants will be required to provide fingerprints and undergo national security and criminal background checks.  The filing fee will be $465.  CIS has been directed to begin accepting applications no later than 180 days from the date of the announcement (May 19, 2015).  Work permits will be valid for three years and individuals granted deferred action can also seek advance parole to travel internationally.

  • Expanded eligibility for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Another significant development coming out of the Presidential reforms announced yesterday is the expansion of DACA beyond its original parameters established in 2012.  For descriptions of the original DACA requirements, please see here. 

The executive reforms announced yesterday make the following reforms to the DACA program:

  • The date of entry for DACA eligibility has been changed from June 15, 2007 to January 1, 2010.  Individuals who entered the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday and prior to January 1, 2010 can qualify for DACA under the revised guidelines.
  • The age cap has been eliminated.  Originally, DACA was limited to individuals under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012.  The upper age limit has been eliminated and those who entered the U.S. before January 1, 2010 and were under the age of 16 will qualify regardless of their current age.
  • DACA work authorization will now be valid for three years as opposed to two.

These reforms will be implemented within 90 days. The other DACA requirements regarding education and criminal issues remain unchanged.  The new parole provisions should also assist DACA grantees.

  • The New Enforcement Priorities Memo

s1.reutersmedia.netAs part of the executive actions reforms announced by the administration yesterday, the administration has redefined the enforcement priorities for Immigration & Customs Enforcement.  Briefly, any law enforcement agency with limited resources can not realistically enforce the law against everyone who may have broken it.  Law enforcement agencies must pick and choose how to allocate their limited resources and where to expend their efforts.  The new enforcement priorities memo provides very clear guidance to ICE as to who their efforts ought to be focused upon.  Groups of people have been classified into three priorities for enforcement, in declining orders of priority.  Individuals not within this memo are, presumably, not priorities, and should be eligible for benefits and not subjected to enforcement actions like detention and removal.  The three classes of priority are as follows:

Priority 1 (Most serious)

  • individuals suspected of terrorism, espionage or who are otherwise a threat to national security
  • individuals apprehended at the border while trying to enter the country illegally
  • individuals involved in gangs or gang activity
  • individuals convicted of a felony unless the essential element of the offense is the individual’s immigration status
  • individuals convicted of an aggravated felony

Priority 2 (Medium serious)

  • individuals convicted of three or more misdemeanors, not including traffic offenses or offenses where an essential element is the individual’s immigration status
  • individuals convicted of a “significant misdemeanor”, which is defined as: an offense of domestic violence, sexual abuse or exploitation, burglary, unlawful possession or use of a firearm, drug trafficking or distribution, driving under the influence, or any offense not included above for which the individual was sentenced to 90 days or more in custody (unlike in most immigration situations, a suspended sentence does not count)
  • those who have entered the U.S. unlawfully after January 1, 2014
  • significant visa or visa waiver abusers

Priority 3 (Less serious)

  • Individuals with a final order of removal entered after January 1, 2014, unless there are other factors that suggest that the individual should not be a priority for enforcement.

Once again, presumably, an individual not on any of these lists should not be considered a priority for removal and ICE is directed not to expend resources of seeking their detention and removal.  We will be watching ICE to see how the agents in the field respond to these revised priorities.

  • Clarifications and increased use of Advance Parole

Another positive change to the immigration laws announced last night is the Secretary of Homeland Security’s instruction that DHS counsel should prepare a legal memorandum forthcoming that departures pursuant to advance parole will not trigger the three and ten year bars.  This memo is to ensure that all departures on advance parole are treated consistently across the country for unlawful presence purposes.

Individuals who have been unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days who then depart the U.S. are subject to a three year bar on returning.  Individuals with a year or more of unlawful presence face a ten year bar after departure.  In Matter of Arrabally and Yerabelly, 25 I.&N. Dec. 771 (BIA 2012), the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that individuals who deAPparted on an advance parole granted due to a pending application for adjustment of status have not made a “departure” for purposes of triggering the three or ten year bars.  while this was a welcome decision, there was confusion and disagreement whether this applied to all departures on advance parole or only to those who departed on advance parole issued to applicants for adjustment of status.  For example, DACA recipients can get advance parole and it was unclear whether their departure would subject them to a bar to return due to unlawful presence they may have accrued prior to DACA’s existence.

The new memo is to clarify that any departure from the U.S. under advance parole no matter why that parole was granted would not be considered a departure for purposes of triggering the three and ten year bars.  This means that people with advance parole, perhaps as a result of DACA, or through the new “DAP” program, for parents of U.S. citizens, will be able travel to visit family abroad without having to lose everything they have achieved in the U.S.

  • Expansion of the Provisional Waiver

Another positive development is the proposed expansion of the provisional waiver program, which the President initiated in 2013.  The provisional waiver, as initially introduced allowed the spouses and children of U.S. citizens to seek a waiver of inadmissibility for the three and ten year bars due to unlawful presence to seek a waiver in the U.S. rather than after proceeding abroad to seek a visa at a U.S. consulate abroad.  This program has been successful and we have had several provisional waivers approved and been lucky to witness reunions made possible by the provisional waiver.

The provisional waiver was initially limited only to spouses and children of American citizens.  The new memo instructs CIS to “expand access to the provisional waiver to all statutorily eligible classes of relative for whom an immigrant visa is immediately available.”  This will clearly include the spouses and children of permanent residents, but could also potentially include a larger group of  individuals such as the adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.

Also, for tremendous significance, the Secretary of Homeland Security has directed the CIS to “clarify the factors that are considered by adjudicators in determining whether the “extreme hardship” standard has been met.  Most importantly, the Secretary has directed CIS to consider whether a legal presumption of extreme hardship may be determined to exist.  The creation of the presumption of hardship would reduce the burden on applicants seeking to show extreme hardship.  We particularly love this idea, because we suggested it here while pointing out the legal authority for such a move. 

  • Parole in Place for family members of those seeking to enlist in the military

The package of reforms introduced by the President includes new policies on the U.S. of parole-in-place or deferred action for the family members of those seeking to enlist in the military.Military

Parole in place is a function of the Department’s discretionary authority to parole anyone into the U.S.  Parole in place is a mechanism to allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to parole an individual into the U.S., providing that individual with legal status and the ability to seek adjustment of status.  Recently, the government has used parole in place to allow the undocumented spouses, parents and children of Servicemembers, including Veterans, to adjust status We discussed this process here in August.

The new policy builds on this use of parole in place.  The Secretary of Homeland Security has instructed the CIS to work with the Department of Defense to “address the availability of parole in place and deferred action to the spouse, parent or child of a U.S. citizen or resident who seeks to enlist in the armed forces.

The “seeks to enlist” criteria is a major expansion of this authority and may provide residence to the close family members of those who want to join the military.

These reforms present many exciting opportunities for immigrants. In connection with other parts of the law, it may be possible to achieve more than a work permit.  We are excited about the possibilities for so many immigrants and look forward to the chance to serve you.

 

President to Announce Executive Actions on Immigration

19 Nov

Obama

Tomorrow night (Thursday, November 20, 2014) at 8PM, the President of the United States will address the nation to announce what steps his administration intends to take to reform U.S. immigration law and policy.  This announcement represents the culmination of the President’s evolution on his authority as the nation’s chief executive.  In June 2014, when it became clear that the House of Representatives would not take up the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate, the President made a statement that he would take administrative action to ameliorate the harsh effects of our immigration law.  He said that he would take such action by the end of the summer.  However, as summer ended, desperate Democratic Senators in tight re-election races persuaded the President to hold off on his administrative reforms in the hopes that they could retain their seats.  However, the President’s forbearance did not help them- they lost anyway- and the President immediately reaffirmed his intention to “go as far as he can go under the law,” according to his adviser Cecilia Muñoz.  After a week of speculation, the President confirmed today that he will release the details of his immigration reform plans tomorrow night with a televised address from the White House, followed up by a rally in Las Vegas.  Details will not be known until tomorrow, but here is what has been reported most commonly:

  • The President plans to offer deferred action to the foreign national parents of U.S. citizen and permanent resident children who have been here for five years and have been law-abiding.
  • Reports indicate that the administration will make changes to how employment based visas are counted to reduce backlogs for needed workers.
  • The adminsitration will expand DACA to include young people who entered before 2010, as opposed to 2007, and eliminate the upper age limit for DACA.
  • Reports indicate that the plan DOES NOT provide deferred action to the parents of DACA recipients who have no citizen or resident children.
  • The program is reported to end Secure Communities, a disaster of a program.

These are the details that have been reported.  The plan may be different and we will now know until the formal announcements are made.  However, the provisions mentioned above, are the most commonly and consistently reported details.

What is deferred action?

Deferred action is a tool of law enforcement which allows an agency to define its priorities and focus its resources on its priorities.  It is a formal statement by the agency that a particular individual is not an enforcement priority and that the immigration agency will not utilize its limited resources to seek removal of that individual.

Is it residence?

No.  It is a temporary and revokable classification of convenience to the agency.  It does not provide an individual with residence or any promise of future residence.  It can be revoked at the discretion of the agency.  For example, a new administration could choose to eliminate the entire program.

Is this legal?

Almost certainly.  The Immigration & Nationality Act has provided the executive branch with wide latitude as to how it enforces the laws.  There are sizable gaps in the statutes passed by Congress that require the executive agencies to exercise their discretion about how they intend to enforce the immigration laws.   This discretion has been recognized by the Supreme Court in Arizona v. United States, where the Court wrote “A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials.  . . .  Federal officials, as an initial matter must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all.”  This broad discretion was also noted by the Supreme Court fifteen years ago in Reno v. America-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, where the Court wrote, “At each stage, the Executive has discretion to abandon the endeavor [referring to the removal process] and at the time the Illegal Immigration reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 was enacted the INS had been engaging in a regular practice (which had come to be known as ‘deferred action’) of exercising that discretion for humanitarian reasons or simply for its own convenience.”

How are Republicans going to react?

Reactions have ranged from pragmatic to hysterical.  There are voices, not to be underestimated, within the GOP that will declare that the President’s action is an impeachable offense.  Although Speaker of the House told the President that he would be “playing with fire” if he moved ahead with immigration, the Republicans seem genuinely conflicted about how to respond.  There are people within the GOP who believe that the Congress should pass its own legislation on immigration.  There are others who want to shut down the g0overnment or not confirm the President’s nominee for Attorney General to force the President to abandon his plan.

When will these changes take effect?

We don’t know.  They will not take effect overnight and there will be some lead time before the administration is prepared to take applications for deferred action from the up to 5 million people believed to be eligible.

What should I do while we are waiting?

First, don’t get arrested!  Second, gather essential documents, such as passports, matricula cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates, tax, school, medical and work records.  Third, consult with reputable lawyers to discuss issues like removal orders, criminal records or other potentially sensitive issues.

We will keep you informed with reliable and accurate information.