Obama's Immigration Action, Part 1: Keeping Families Together

DACA Expansion
Almost two years ago, the President created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as a substitute for the proposed DREAM act, which did not receive approval from Congress. (He did this too through executive action.) DACA provides the ability to stay and work in the United States to qualifying aliens who entered without inspection (illegally) as children. The stated goal of this policy change was to keep families together and help prioritize immigration enforcement resources to those who pose actual threats to this nation’s security (and away from those who came as a result of their parents’ actions).

Last week, President Obama announced expansions to this policy. To begin with, the current DACA program has an age cut-off; it applies only to those who were born after June 15th 1981. (Those born on or before that date are ineligible.) This would change; there would be no age limit. Another requirement–that aliens must have had a continuous presence in the U.S. starting June 15th 2007 in order to be eligible–has been relaxed to January 1st 2010.

DAP: DACA for Parents
A new deference of action program is created by this action: Deferred Action for Parents (DAP). DAP will provide the same relief as DACA (including eligibility for work authorization) to parents of permanent residents and citizens, regardless of age–as long as they meet three requirements. They must (1) have had a continuous presence in this country starting January 1st 2010 at the latest, (2) pass a background check, and (3) pay back taxes.

Expansion of Parole-in-Place for Military Families
Currently, some otherwise able to enlist in their desired branch of the armed forces are unable to do so because of a requirement that the enlistee have no undocumented immediate relatives. In order to remedy this, parole-in-place may be offered to these family members. This would allow them to stay and apply for work authorization in the United States as long as the enlistee remains in service or receives an honorable discharge. Parole-in-place puts an undocumented alien in the same legal position as someone who entered the country by paroling in, which is through special permission without using any legal cause for admission.

Provisional Waiver Expansion
One could view this change as increasing the avenues through which one can receive a provisional waiver–or as making it easier to qualify for one. When aliens commit unlawful entry, they are at risk of being deported and barred from the country, often for many years. The provisional waiver is an avenue for avoiding this and allowing the alien to undergo the consular process (which leads to permanent residence) without delay. A provisional waiver may only be approved if it can be shown that long-term absence of the alien would cause “extreme hardship” to “qualifying relatives.”
Currently, the only relatives who qualify are the spouse and parents of the alien. With the apparent forthcoming change, however, there will be an expansion of the definition of “qualifying relatives” to include children of the alien. It is also expected that the definition of “extreme hardship” will be expanded or clarified.

Discontinuation of “Secure Communities” and Deportation Reprioritization
Secure Communities is a program that was started in the late Bush Administration and expanded under Obama. It asked local law authorities to send information on everyone in jail to the Department of Homeland Security, which would then look for undocumented immigrants and ask the local authority to hold them until deportation can begin. There was neither an official way of focusing on those who are threats, nor was there a protocol of ignoring those who had committed minor crimes. Unfair or not, the program caused great distrust toward the police among the undocumented and those who have undocumented family members. It should be easy to see how this can be problematic for local law enforcement.

Secure Communities is being replaced. Called the Priority Enforcement Program, the replacement will establish different conventions for accomplishing the same end goal: advancing U.S. safety. Local law enforcement will notify DHS if it captures someone who appears to represent a threat to national security (as defined by DHS). Then, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) must ask to be notified when there is a pending release of the alien if it too determines that he or she is a threat. If one of those two things doesn’t happen, the alien will be released at his or her regular release date.