As Facebook is crowded with pictures of kids going back to school, we must face the inevitable end of summer. However, for immigrants, it is possible that the end of summer will bring long-awaited administrative relief from the Obama administration. In June, President Obama went to the Rose Garden to state that, in the absence of legislation from Congress, he was going to use his executive power to address the harshness of U.S. immigration laws. He stated that he instructed Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to present recommendations for changes that the administration could make to existing interpretations of immigration law that would ameliorate the inhumane consequences of current immigration policy. The Secretary was instructed to produce his recommendations and plan by the end of summer. With the President returning from vacation soon and the traditional end of summer holiday of Labor Day approaching, expectations are sky high that the President will announce meaningful administrative actions in the coming weeks. Washington is awash in rumors, speculation, leaks, and hopes as to what the nature of immigration relief might look like. In this blog, we take a look at some of the common possibilities that keep popping up in reports. We have written in the past about steps that the President could take to make U.S. immigration laws less harsh. This post is about those measures that have been commonly reported in the media.
- Parole-in-place. This would be the most ambitious use of presidential authority.
- WHAT IT IS: The Immigration & Nationality Act gives the administration the ability to parole any immigrant into the U.S. if the administration determines that it would be in the national interest. Ordinarily, parole is granted to allow someone to enter the U.S. from abroad. However, parole-in-place is a mechanism to parole those already in the U.S. who have not been admitted, such as those who entered unlawfully.
- WHAT IT WOULD DO: By paroling those who entered illegally, parole-in-place would have the effect of making them eligible for adjustment of status to permanent residence based upon the petition of an immediate relative, such as a U.S. citizen spouse or a child over 21.
- WHO IT WOULD HELP: Those who entered unlawfully and have close U.S. citizen family ties. This could be more expansive than those who can benefit from the provisional waiver as the provisional waiver is not available to those who are inadmissible on criminal grounds or fraud grounds. Conceivably, parole in place would allow immigrants to seek adjustment of status with the opportunity to apply for all of the waivers that are available to other adjustment applicants.
- Deferred Action. Conventional wisdom is that the President will utilize the deferred action method used for young people in 2012 which would provide no stable or durable status, but would provide a reprieve from removal and the ability to obtain employment authorization.
- WHAT IT IS: in June 2012, the President created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which formalized a policy that the government was not interested in seeking the removal of young people who entered as children, stayed in school, and, generally, avoided trouble. The President could expand the Deferred Action program to include other favored groups, such as the parents of U.S. citizen or the parents of DACA recipients.
- WHAT IT WOULD DO: By granting deferred action, the administration would be formally recognizing that the individual is not a priority for removal and would not be sought for removal. Deferred action comes with work permits, allowing individuals to live without fear of removal, to work legally, obtain social security numbers and driver’s licenses.
- WHO IT WOULD HELP: This is hard to say. The administration could create a class of individuals who would qualify for expanded deferred action. There is general legal consensus that he may not grant deferred action to all undocumented individuals. Commonly discussed potential classes include the parents of U.S. citizens and the parents of DACA grantees. Another broad class would be deferred action for those immigrants who would benefit under the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in 2013. It is likely that, like DACA, any deferred action grant would have eligibility requirements relating to length of time in the U.S, work history, an the lack of a criminal record.Deferred Action. The President could simply expand Deferred Action beyond the DREAMers. He could identify classes of individuals who the administration identifies as low priorities for removal from the U.S.
- Recapture of visa numbers. This is among proposals favored by the business community. It would not necessarily apply to individuals without status, but would help fix the extraordinary backlog in employment-based visas. Some individuals do fall out of status waiting for their spot in the backlog to become available to them.
- WHAT IT IS: The Immigration & Nationality Act makes a limited number of visas (green cards) available every year and divides them among various categories. Sometimes, because of the way the visas are allocated, many of those visas go unused every year. This contributes to horrendous backlogs that hurt employers’ ability to retain key personnel.
- WHAT IT WOULD DO: By changing the way visas are counted and allocated, this change would shorten lines for visas in the employment-based categories, shortening the time it takes for a foreign employee to obtain residence.
- WHO IT WOULD HELP: Employment-based immigrants, their families, and their employers. Reduction in the amount of time necessary to sponsor an immigrant through work could help many people who could seek residence through employment and fall out of status while waiting in the backlog.
- Work authorization for H-4 Visa Holders. This is another of the priorities for the business community.
- WHAT IT IS: Individuals admitted in H-4 status are the spouses and children under 21 of H-1B visa holders, who may enter the U.S. to work for a U.S. employer in a professional capacity for up to six years. Under current law, an individual admitted into the U.S. in H-4 status is not allowed to accept employment in the U.S.
- WHAT IT WOULD DO: Administrative change could make H-4 visa holders eligible to apply for employment authorization. Since the Immigration & nationality Act does not prohibit such employment authorization, regulatory change could create a category to allow H-4s to work. There is precedent for this as changes to the law allowed L-2 visa holders, the spouse and children under 21 of L-1 intracompany transferees to obtain employment authorization.
- WHO IT WOULD HELP: The spouses and children of H-1B visa holders and their families. Businesses want this change because international candidates sometimes turn down offers to work in the U.S. because their spouse can not work.
Executive action seems all but assured. The questions is not “if,” but “exactly what” and “when.” The President has waited far too long to take this actions. Millions have suffered in a cynical attempt to pacify the House GOP and enforcement-lust. The President has returned from vacation and it is time for everyone to get back to the important work of addressing the colossal failure of U.S. immigration law and the even more contemptible failure of Congress to deal with it.