Friday, August 23, 2013

Expanding Deferred Action: The President’s “Plan B”

Just as the immigration debate was heating up in Washington, DC, the United States Congress took a five-week break from lawmaking called a “recess.”  During the month of August 2013, all members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate returned to their home districts and are now hearing from their constituents.  It is no surprise that the hot topic this recess is immigration reform.  And a heated debate it is.  At local town hall meetings, the anti-immigrant lobby vehemently opposes “amnesty” in any form while pro-immigrant voters request that their elected representatives vote in favor of a bill that includes a path to U.S. citizenship for the 11+ million undocumented workers in the U.S. today. 

Many moderate Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives know that if they vote in favor of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants they will likely lose their Congressional seats in the 2014 mid-term elections to Republican candidates who cater to the far-right majority in their districts.  So many Republican candidates will likely vote against comprehensive immigration reform to save their jobs.  If that happens, and comprehensive immigration reform dies, what options are available to protect immigrants that do not require Congressional action?

If comprehensive immigration reform fails in the House of Representatives, the President of the United States could expand the deferred action program to include all immigrants in the U.S. who do not have serious criminal records.  Deferred action status would not provide qualifying immigrants with the ability to obtain U.S. citizenship- it is a two-year temporary status that provides protection from deportation and work authorization.  This deferred action status must be renewed every two years and a background check would be required prior to approval.  The deferred action work authorization would allow immigrants to obtain social security numbers and driver licenses.  It would bring them out of the shadows. 

In June 2012, the President- through his Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano- announced that his administration would grant deferred action to certain young people brought to the U.S. by their parents as minors.  This deferred action program, called DACA (“Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”), has benefitted over 400,000 young people so far.  These young people are now work authorized and no longer live in fear of deportation. 
If the U.S. House of Representatives does not vote in favor of a meaningful immigration bill- which includes a path to U.S. citizenship- after the August recess, President Obama should expand his deferred action program.  The President should make all undocumented immigrants who do not have serious criminal histories eligible for this program.  The President has said before that he is willing to use “whatever executive authority” he has if Congress does not act on this issue.  Expanding deferred action should be the President’s “Plan B” if comprehensive immigration reform does not pass this Fall 2013. 

By: Andrea C. Martinez
Associate Attorney
McCrummen Immigration Law Group


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