President Obama at long last announced plans Thursday night to deal with America’s immigration problem. In the absence of congressional action, Obama is expected to grant reprieve for some 4.9 million of undocumented immigrants who have significant ties to the United States, as well as improve border security.
Because of the limits of Obama’s executive power, the action is not nearly as broad as proposed bills for comprehensive immigration reform. But Obama’s action will provide the first opportunity for millions of undocumented immigrants to live and work openly.
“Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?,” Obama said Thursday night. “Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?”
During a call with reporters Thursday afternoon, senior White House administration officials stated that the president would “bring more accountability” with his executive action, namely that there are “three policy buckets that encapsulate what the president would be announcing tonight,” including focusing on border security, providing deportation relief for some undocumented immigrants, and creating new programs to maximize the talent pool of individuals studying science and technology. The executive action would only affect undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for at least five years.
Here is a handy guide for what you should expect from Obama’s executive action and how it would likely affect the individuals involved:
Who will get relief?
The executive order will affect around 4.9 million undocumented immigrants, including the some 4.1 million immigrants whose children already have legal status. Obama will also expand a program for undocumented immigrants who came here as children. If each of these individuals apply and are accepted into the executive action program, they will be temporarily sheltered from deportation and become eligible to work.
Representing the largest group affected are the 4.1 million parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. To qualify, these individuals must have been in the country for at least five years and cannot have criminal records.
The executive action will also remove the upper age limits of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has thus far conferred temporary deportation reprieve and work authorization to about 600,000 undocumented immigrants between the ages of 15 and 31. Individuals who apply under the expanded deferred action program must have come into the United States before the age of 16 and must have arrived before January 2010. This category would likely affect 300,000 immigrants.
Recipients of the DACA program and its expansion would qualify for three-year renewals, instead of the current two-year expiration date for DACA recipients. Current DACA recipients would also be eligible for three-year renewals.
Who will be left out?
Immigrants who have been convicted of an aggravated felony, are national security threats, have any felonies, three separate misdemeanor, or have been convicted of a serious crime are ineligible for relief.
Any of the remaining 11.5 million undocumented immigrants who do not fall in the above categories likely would not qualify for relief, though advocates have hoped for broad relief for some categories including parents of DACA beneficiaries. Those individuals would not qualify under a stand-alone category. A senior official said, “Some of the legal thinking behind it, there are many parents of DREAMers who are going to be covered — they have other children who have U.S. citizens. On the question of stand-alone parents of DREAMers, it was something we consulted with the Department of Justice very closely and we ultimately concluded we couldn’t do it.”
Farm workers would also not be included as a specific category, though like parents of undocumented immigrants, some could be covered if they have children who are lawfully here.
Children who came in increasing numbers at the southern border from the three Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala would also not receive relief. “We’re communicating aggressively in the U.S. and in Central America,” a senior administration official said. “Nothing in these actions benefit people who came this year or in the future. We’re redoubling efforts for the future. There’s a right way and a wrong way for people who qualify… they can apply in their countries of origin.”
What’s going to happen with border security?
During a speech at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said there would be border security components to the executive action, including a southern border campaign plan that would coordinate the efforts of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Coast Guard, and other DHS agencies.
Immigration authorities would be given enforcement priorities so they can focus their resources on those individuals that pose a threat. The priorities would include two tiers of criminality: immigrants who are threats to society, terrorists, aggravated felons, and recent border crossers are in the first tier, Marshall Fitz immigration policy director at the Center of American Progress said Thursday. Fitz said that the second tier of enforcement priorities include immigrants who re-entered the country after January 1, 2014. Immigrants who came before that date would otherwise be considered low-priority. “If you have an outstanding [deportation] order from five years ago, that doesn’t bar you from eligibility,” Fitz said, emphasizing that the administration would focus on a murderers-not-moms approach.
The government would also end Secure Communities, the federal immigration program that allows local law enforcement officials to hand suspected criminal immigrants over to federal immigration officials for potential deportation. They may replace it with another program. One senior official said that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson “has reworked a memorandum to focus more sharply on people with serious convictions as well as recent border crossers and replacing the Secure Communities program [would] align with those priorities to make sure that we focus enforcement resources” on criminal immigrants. “Before it was a demand, now it’s a request,” the senior official said. “Now Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will send a notice and pick up someone if the person in custody is an enforcement priority. Arrest for a broken tail light alone is not enough.”
“People who are not those priorities would be removed only when a supervisor says it would be a smart use of resources,” a senior official added.
How else will the immigration system be improved?
The administration is rolling out a number of other programs to streamline the current processes for legal immigration, many of which are aimed at improving the U.S. economy. Some of the primary changes include “enhancing options for foreign entrepreneurs” by giving them more opportunities to immigrate if they meet certain criteria for creating jobs, attracting investment, and generating revenue;” and making it easier for legal permanent residents considered “high-skilled workers” under the H1-B visa program to change jobs while remaining in the United States, according to a White House fact sheet.
When does it begin?
The program would likely begin in six months, but those who qualify for the expanded DACA program could likely begin their applications in 90 days, Fitz said.
Would immigrants be able to travel?
Senior officials are redefining the eligibility criteria for travel authorization.
Why is the president going to Las Vegas?
President Obama will make his official pitch at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday. “Returning to Del Sol serves as an useful illustration for how long the president has worked on this issue,” a senior administration official said. The site is significant given that the president made his pitch for comprehensive immigration reform at the same school two years ago. Choosing Nevada as the place to make his remarks is also significant since one in six K-12 school children in the state have undocumented parents.