Most Obama amnesty acts go­ing for­ward af­ter one year

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Pres­i­dent Obama’s mar­quee de­por­ta­tion amnesty has been stalled by the courts, but the rest of his ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions on im­mi­gra­tion, an­nounced ex­actly a year ago, are mov­ing for­ward — in­clud­ing his move pro­tect­ing more than 80 per­cent of il­le­gal im­mi­grants from any dan­ger of de­por­ta­tion.

The amnesty, dubbed De­ferred Ac­tion for Parental Ac­count­abil­ity, was sup­posed to grant full ten­ta­tive le­gal sta­tus — in­clud­ing work per­mits, So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers and driver’s li­censes — to more than 4 mil­lion il­le­gal im­mi­grants. It has been halted by a fed­eral ap­peals court, and its fate will soon rest with the Supreme Court.

But the rest of the dozen ac­tions Mr. Obama an­nounced on Nov. 20, 2014, are still ad­vanc­ing, in­clud­ing a far-reach­ing set of pri­or­i­ties that ef­fec­tively or­ders agents not to bother de­port­ing nearly all il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

“There are 7 or 8 or 9 mil­lion peo­ple who are now safe un­der the cur­rent pol­icy. That is a vic­tory to cel­e­brate while we wait for the Supreme Court,” said Rep. Luis V. Gu­tier­rez, an Illi­nois Demo­crat who was among the chief cheer­lead­ers push­ing Mr. Obama to go around Congress and take uni­lat­eral steps last year.

The ac­tions — of­ten mis­la­beled by the press as ex­ec­u­tive or­ders — also in­cluded changes to the le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem, such as making it eas­ier for spouses of guest work­ers to also find jobs; al­low­ing for­eign­ers who study science and tech­nol­ogy at U.S. uni­ver­si­ties to re­main and work in the coun­try longer; push­ing le­gal im­mi­grants to ap­ply for cit­i­zen­ship; and waiv­ing the penalty on il­le­gal im­mi­grant spouses or chil­dren of le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dents so they no longer have to go to their home coun­tries to await le­gal sta­tus.

On en­force­ment, Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son, called for a more co­or­di­nated ap­proach to border se­cu­rity, and that paid off with a ma­jor drop in ar­rests of il­le­gal im­mi­grants in the South­west. Ap­pre­hen­sions were at their low­est lev­els since the 1970s.

At Mr. Obama’s di­rec­tion, Mr. John­son an­nounced changes that would let most rank-and-file il­le­gal im­mi­grants off the hook and in­stead fo­cus de­por­ta­tion ef­forts on se­ri­ous crim­i­nals, gang mem­bers and other se­cu­rity threats, and only the most re­cent of il­le­gal border crossers.

“Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment is do­ing what I told them to do — to repri­or­i­tize and fo­cus on con­victed crim­i­nals,” Mr. John­son said this month as he took stock of the changes. “This is the gen­eral di­rec­tion that the pres­i­dent and I want to go when it comes to how we en­force im­mi­gra­tion law — fo­cus­ing on threats to pub­lic safety and border se­cu­rity for the Amer­i­can pub­lic.”

The changes are al­ready hav­ing a ma­jor ef­fect. De­por­ta­tions, which peaked at nearly 410,000 in fis­cal year 2012, dropped to about 230,000 in fis­cal year 2015, which ended Sept. 30. But Mr. John­son said more of those be­ing de­ported are the se­ri­ous crim­i­nals and safety threats he wants his agents to worry about.

In­deed, if agents ad­here strictly to his pri­or­i­ties, some 9.6 mil­lion of the es­ti­mated 11.5 mil­lion il­le­gal im­mi­grants in the coun­try have no real dan­ger of be­ing de­ported, ac­cord­ing to an es­ti­mate this year by the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute.

“The en­force­ment pri­or­i­ties an­nounced last year, if strictly en­forced, do pro­tect the vast ma­jor­ity of unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants from be­ing de­ported, be­cause most im­mi­grants have been here a long time and haven’t com­mit­ted a se­ri­ous crime,” said Marc Rosen­blum, deputy di­rec­tor of the in­sti­tute’s U.S. im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy pro­gram.

The num­ber could go even higher, de­pend­ing on how agents fol­low some of Mr. John­son’s other in­struc­tions. The sec­re­tary had said even some il­le­gal im­mi­grants with se­ri­ous crim­i­nal of­fenses on their records should be al­lowed to stay if they had mit­i­gat­ing fac­tors, such as deep fam­ily or com­mu­nity ties.

Im­mi­grant rights activists said they are still wait­ing for those spe­cial cir­cum­stances to be ap­plied more broadly.

Mr. John­son also has been push­ing, with some suc­cess, to try to get sanc­tu­ary cities to buy into lim­ited co­op­er­a­tion with his de­por­ta­tion agents. He scrapped the Se­cure Com­mu­ni­ties pro­gram that trolled state and lo­cal pris­ons and jails for il­le­gal im­mi­grants and re­placed it with the Pri­or­i­ties En­force­ment Pro­gram, which tar­gets only se­ri­ous crim­i­nals.

“It is tremen­dously harder now to de­port even crim­i­nals, much less gar­den­va­ri­ety il­le­gal aliens. They have truly dis­mem­bered the im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment sys­tem, from the Border Pa­trol to the im­mi­gra­tion courts,” said Jes­sica Vaughan, pol­icy stud­ies di­rec­tor at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, which ad­vo­cates for stricter im­mi­gra­tion con­trols.

But the jewel of the ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions was the de­por­ta­tion amnesty, which was de­layed first by a fed­eral dis­trict court in Texas and last week by an ap­peals court.

All sides in the de­bate agree that was a huge blow to Mr. Obama.

“With­out be­ing able to give away a ben­e­fit, like a work per­mit, th­ese changes are less per­ma­nent, and eas­ier to undo in some ways, than would have been the case had the pres­i­dent been able to im­ple­ment DAPA,” Ms. Vaughan said.

Mr. Obama said he took the se­ries of steps in re­sponse to in­ac­tion from Congress, where his push for a broad bill grant­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants a path to cit­i­zen­ship stalled in 2013. Frus­trated by Repub­li­cans, Mr. Obama waited un­til af­ter the 2014 elec­tions, then an­nounced his go-it-alone ap­proach.

Many of the steps are works in progress.

Home­land Se­cu­rity has is­sued pro­pos­als to carry out the le­niency pro­gram for il­le­gal im­mi­grant spouses and chil­dren of green-card hold­ers and to al­low for­eign stu­dents in science and tech­nol­ogy to stay longer. Both of those still need to be fi­nal­ized, as does a pro­posal ex­pand­ing hard­ship waivers.

Other moves were eas­ier to ac­com­plish: Home­land Se­cu­rity now ac­cepts credit card pay­ments for cit­i­zen­ship fees.


Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son called for a more co­or­di­nated ap­proach to border se­cu­rity, and that paid off with a ma­jor drop in ar­rests of il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Ap­pre­hen­sions were at their low­est lev­els since the 1970s.

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