Monthly Archives: November 2014

It’s a Fine Executive Order, But What Will the 2017 President Do?

Obama immigration speechMany immigrant groups have expressed disappointment that President Obama’s Executive Order of November 20, 2014 did not go further in easing the lives of immigrants within the United States.

Latino groups, for example, would have liked to see relief for farmworkers, LGBT groups would have liked to see relief for those without family relationships to draw on, and young beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) would have liked to see their parents and other non-DACA-eligible family members receive derivative benefits, such as a work permit and similar protection from deportation.

But I’m impressed that the order went as far as it did, basically stopping just short of granting any new, permanent legal status to non-citizens of the United States. Doing so is traditionally seen as the role of Congress, though the exact line between the president’s and Congress’s power over immigration matters has never been clearly drawn. (For a full legal analysis, see “The President and Immigration Law,” by Adam Cox and Cristina Rodriquez.)

The expansion of the provisional waiver program, for example, is a huge fix to what was essentially a procedural inequity, allowing adult children of U.S. citizens as well as spouses and children of lawful permanent residents who were living in the U.S. unlawfully and not among those allowed to file paperwork here, but too scared to leave to collect the green cards they were otherwise eligible for, to file a waiver request and obtain assurance before their departure that they’d be allowed back into the United States. (Sorry, there’s just no way to make that brief and easy to grasp. Put another way, the provisional waiver allows them to apply for a waiver of their unlawful presence in the U.S. before, not after taking the risk of departing and then being barred from return. Is it any wonder the press and public seem a little unclear on the details?)

For more on this and other changes made by the Executive Order, see Nolo’s update, “President Obama Announces Executive Action on Immigration.”

The bottom line, however, is that an executive order can be easily undone by the next executive — and we don’t know who will succeed President Obama after the 2016 election. Immigrants are plenty aware of this fact. That’s why far fewer young people applied for DACA relief than were eligible or expected.

If it’s true that young people have a sense of invincibility, then one might argue that the new group of deferred-action-eligible people created by President Obama’s order — parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents — might be even less willing to say, in effect, “Hey look, I’m here illegally, here are my name and address for your files!”.

They know, better than many of the opponents of the President’s order, that neither DACA nor the new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program is in any way an amnesty. Neither program offers a path to a green card — DACA and DAPA provide only a work permit and a short-term promise that those approved won’t be deported. As stated to the National Journal by Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the Migration Policy Institute’s U.S. Immigration Policy Program, “Those who have a stable job and aren’t looking for a new one might decide it’s safer to keep their names off the government’s books.”

The one thing that every group representing, or even interested in the fate of immigrants and refugees in the U.S. seems to agree on, is that Congress needs to get its act together and actually pass immigration reform. That will no doubt fall short of providing the relief that everyone hopes for too, but at least it will offer some certainty.

Diane Guerrero’s Story of Parents Being Deported Represents Experience of Thousands of Children

ICE arrestActress Diane Guerrero (“Orange Is the New Black,” “Jane the Virgin”) recently described her traumatic experience, at age 14, of coming home to find that her parents had been picked up by U.S. immigration authorities. They were detained and ultimately deported. (See “Op-Ed ‘Orange is the New Black’ actress: My parents were deported.”)

She literally came home to an empty house, receiving no communication, much less help, from U.S. authorities. Only by relying on help from friends was she able to keep her life together and ultimately achieve the success that she did. (Many others aren’t so lucky.)

If that sounds like a script worthy of a movie, realize that it happens every day — no exaggeration. As described in the Huffington Post‘s article by Elise Foley, “Deportation Separated Thousands Of U.S.-Born Children From Parents In 2013,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] last year carried out more than 72,000 deportations of parents who said they had U.S.-born children.”

That’s despite the supposedly active policy of “prosecutorial discretion,” under which ICE agents are expected to follow specific guidelines in choosing who to spend precious government resources on prosecuting, giving lower priority to cases where the undocumented immigrant is law-abiding and has ties to the U.S. such as U.S. citizen children and other family members.

In fact, Diane may have been lucky to escape U.S. government workers’ notice. The all-too-common scenario when a parent is deported is for the child to be placed into the foster care system, lose contact with the parents, and ultimately have the parents’ legal rights and relationship to them terminated. (See, “Thousands of Kids Lost From Parents In U.S. Deportation System,” by Seth Freed Wessler, Colorlines, November 2 2011.)

So, on top of using U.S. government resources to break up families, this misused exercise of discretion is costing the foster care system untold amounts. It’s a problem that could be solved without waiting for immigration reform, with more rational behavior by ICE in following its own guidelines, and attention to maintaining family ties within the foster care system. Let’s hope Diane Guerrero’s story, by putting a face on this crisis, will spur efforts in this direction.