After months of waiting, President Obama was informed Monday that Congress will not be voting on immigration legislation this year. So, the President announced that by the end of this summer he will undertake “a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.”
President Obama is doing the right thing. Congress has failed our nation’s most deserving immigrant populations, and the President has both the legal power and the moral imperative to do everything he can to support them.
Public interest attorneys are on the front lines, representing immigrant clients who have been victims of the inefficiencies and injustices of our current laws. We know what is broken and have developed innovative, sensible reforms that are within the President’s sphere of influence and authority. For example, a year before the implementation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), we at NYLAG recommended just such a use of prosecutorial discretion to help undocumented youth. Introduced by the President in June 2012, DACA enables qualified immigrants who came to this country as young children to receive temporary work authorization and other benefits. Over 500,000 DACA applications have been approved to date, and the program was just renewed for another two years.
If the President really intends to do as much as he can to fix our immigration system, he can start with DACA. It should be expanded to include a group of young immigrants who otherwise meet all the criteria, except that they currently hold Temporary Protected Status (TPS) because of unsafe conditions in their countries of origin. Giving these young people DACA would give them greater protection, ensuring that they are not at risk of deportation when their countries’ TPS expires. In addition, the DACA age limit should be expanded or done away with altogether. The present requirement that applicants be under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012, is arbitrary and disqualifies a great many older candidates who were brought to the US as young children, and are otherwise eligible.
The Administration can also expand an existing policy called “parole in place” to include individuals currently present in the US who have an immediate relative who is a US citizen. This would mean a multitude of immigrants with no criminal records and strong family ties in the US could secure green cards without being forced to leave the US in order to apply for reentry with status.
In addition, the President can use the power of the Executive branch to instruct the Department of Homeland Security to exercise its prosecutorial discretion to defer or delay deportations in cases where people have immediate relatives who are US citizens, longstanding ties to the community, or are otherwise of good moral character.
The real solution to fixing our unworkable and unfair immigration laws is comprehensive reform – which most Americans support. But the political realities in Washington have yet again doomed that dream. President Obama has no choice now but to go it alone. Luckily, there is quite a lot he can do.
Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge