Immigration Reform has Stalled…Now What?

With comprehensive immigration reform stalled in the House of Representatives, and President Obama inundated with complaints from the Latino activists, the President recently ordered his Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh C. Johnson, to conduct an evaluation of all deportations of illegal immigrants.  

When it is predictably confirmed by DHS Secretary Johnson that the far majority of those immigrants removed from this country are not dangerous criminals, but are rather hard working people trying to make a better life for their family, President Obama will have a few options at his disposal besides sitting back and waiting for the House to act on immigration reform.

First, President Obama could have the Department of Homeland Security issue a memorandum stating that all parents of DREAMers (those children brought to the U.S. by their parents at a young age, and who have graduated high school, or are currently enrolled in school), will be eligible for Deferred Action.  The granting of Deferred Action by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will allow the parents of DREAMers to live and work legally in the country, and pay taxes using a social security number. 

This option would constitute a temporary fix to those persons in the U.S. illegally as the granting of Deferred Action  puts immigrants in quasi legal status, and does not provide a path towards lawful permanent resident (green card) status, with the ultimate goal of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Second, President Obama could attempt to alter DHS/ICE’s current position on Prosecutorial Discretion by issuing a new policy memorandum clearly stating which cases should be prosecuted, and which cases should be administratively closed or terminated.  The memo might be drafted to prevent the prosecution and removal of immigrants who would qualify for relief under the Senate’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, or the parents of DREAMers. 

he problem with this second option is that it does not address the millions of immigrants who are not currently in deportation/removal proceedings, and may not lead to the granting of employment authorization to those immigrants whose cases were administratively closed.

The third option is granting Parole in Place for those immigrants who would qualify for relief under the Senate’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, or who are the parents of DREAMers.  Parole in Place is a doctrine currently used to allow noncitizen spouses, parents, and unmarried minor children of U.S. citizen members of the U.S. military to be paroled into the U.S., and ultimately allows them to adjust their status to Lawful Permanent Resident in the U.S., despite the fact that they have accrued more than 6 months of unlawful presence in the U.S. 

This option would be the best for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally because it would provide a path to permanent resident and ultimately U.S. citizenship for those who qualify.  The problem with this option is that it would clearly be construed as a means to bypass current immigration law, and would be challenged vociferously by the Tea Party faction of the Republican party who do not want to see illegal immigrants in the election booths in the near future.

In sum, President Obama made immigration reform one of his top priorities during his second term in office.   Now is the time for him to use his executive authority to make changes to existing immigration policy that will better the lives of millions of families, and ultimately strengthen the U.S. economy. 

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