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As many of you already know, President Obama addressed the Nation on November 20th, 2014 about the actions he would take to improve some of the problems with our immigration system. Shortly before the televised announcement, I had the privilege of being a part of a stakeholder’s phone conference with White House officials, during which we were able to obtain a bit more detail about the various executive actions, memorandums and regulations that would be implemented over the next few weeks and months. As this short summary is being written, the details are still sparse and may change even by the time this article is published, but hopefully it will shine a little light on the topic and help you understand what changes are coming.

Deferred Action:

The biggest announcement consisted of the expansion of the current Deferred Action rules. The existing rule, referred to as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) will be updated to eliminate age caps for applicants (Currently, applicants must be under 31 prior to June 15th, 2012. ) and the continuous residence requirement will be relaxed from the current June 15th, 2007 to January 1st, 2010. The Deferral will last three years- instead of just the prior two years. The new rules should go into effect; meaning applications will be accepted and ready to be processed, within 90 days.
The second expansion of Deferred Action will apply to parents of U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents. To qualify, the parents would have to be present in the USA since January 1st, 2010, must pass a background check and pay taxes. Interestingly, during the phone conference the White House suggested that there was no requirement to pay “back taxes” to qualify for the benefit. This may, however, change. Also, the parents of children that are recipients of DACA will not qualify for this benefit. Deferred Action for Parents should be implemented within the next 6 months.
Jointly, the two expansions will benefit approximately 4.4 million people. So what does this all mean? What is deferred action anyway? Basically, the qualifying illegal immigrants will receive a quasi-legal status in the USA. It is quasi-legal because it doesn’t actually make them permanent residents, or give them a path to citizenship – it doesn’t even give them a visa. Deferred Action simply puts the legal deportation of illegal immigrants on hold for a certain period of time – in this case 3 years. It is almost as if a police officer pulled someone over for speeding, wrote a ticket and told the driver that he would not file the ticket with the court house for the next three years.
Essentially, the executive branch is telling the undocumented immigrants that they will not be deported for a short amount of time as long as they meet certain criteria. This stay or hold from deportation also leads to eligibility for a Work Authorization. With the Work Permit, Deferred Action immigrants will be eligible to be hired in most jobs, will have to pay taxes and will be able to obtain identification documents and driver’s licenses. The Work Permit does not create any ability to obtain any government benefits, so Social Security, Medicare / Medicaid, Unemployment, Food Stamps etc. will not be available to this group of people – although they will be paying for those benefits through their taxes.

Enforcement and Border Security:

The White House and Department of Homeland security also intend on prioritizing deportation and enforcement operations by focusing on suspected terrorists, convicted gang members, those convicted of felonies, serious and / or multiple misdemeanors and those that have entered after January 1st, 2014. Those undocumented immigrants that are apprehended and do not fall into any of the previous categories and are not eligible for any sort of Deferred Action, may still be eligible for Prosecutorial Discretion- that may allow them to remain here illegally and without a Work Authorization. A clear outline of enforcement criteria is expected in a memorandum in the future.
Of interest to local Criminal Defense Counsel and Law Enforcement may be the move away from ICE Detainers for most cases except those that qualify as national security cases. The detainers will be replaced with a simple request for notification of release. This should avoid the problem of ICE holds for someone accused of simply driving without a license or other petty offenses.
As far as increasing border security, The Department of Homeland Security will be announcing a “Command and Control” campaign to coordinate security and resources at the Southern Border.

Business and Employment Directives

The President touched upon this very briefly during his speech most likely due to the lack of details that are available. At the present time, virtually all business, investor and employment based visas have yearly caps – many of them with backlogs or simply too little allocations to meet our economy’s needs. Those that have expertise in sciences, technology, entrepreneurship etc. will find new prospects of legally staying in the United States and finding employment and/ or starting businesses. Through the use of National Interest Waivers, Paroles (normally used for humanitarian purposes) and new regulations, the administration intends to create opportunities for job creation and to attract and retain highly-qualified and skilled workers. It is expected that these new rules will be promulgated over the next few weeks and months.
The Obama Administration did mention a host of additional tweaks and improvement in the existing regulation that intend to improve the efficiency and fairness of the system as a whole; from ensuring that one agency follows the rulings of another to modernizing the way Visa’s are issued.
All in all, much remains to be seen about the details of these new policies, but they are surely promising to change the lives of many people in this country. Nonetheless, given the political divide that these actions have created, some of the implementation may be changed or altered. All of which also begs the question of how many people will actually take advantage of something without the security of a long-term fix. For now, for many, this will be the best it gets.

References:

White House Immigration Stakeholder’s Phone Conference November 20th, 2014. 06:30pm.
Crystal Williams, AILA executive Director, Mass Communication: “Info RE: President’s Announcement.” November 20th, 2014.

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