Obama Leaning Toward Expanding Deferred Action for up to 5 Million Undocumented

The midterm elections, resulting in the dominance of the Republican party in Congress, left it up in the air in terms of President Obama’s prior promises to ‘do something’ on immigration reform this year. However, recent press reports over the past few days are indicating a move in this direction, despite threats from Republicans of the consequences of failing to go through Congress with immigration reform.

According to New York Times today, President Obama is planning to use his presidential authority to protect millions of immigrants from deportation. An official announcement of a 10-part plan, says Reuters, citing a Fox News report, could be announced as soon as November 21.

White House Spokesman Shawn Turner, commenting on the report, said the president hasn’t decided when he’ll make an announcement on using executive action to address the immigration system, but he “remains committed to taking action before the end of the year.”

As the Times reports, Obama’s plan would protect up to 5 million undocumented workers by halting deportation of immigrants who came to the United States as children, and the parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. That part of Mr. Obama’s plan alone could affect as many as 3.3 million people who have been living in the United States illegally for at least five years, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, an immigration research organization in Washington. But the White House is also considering a stricter policy that would limit the benefits to people who have lived in the country for at least 10 years, or about 2.5 million people. He has not discussed anything about spouses of US citizens or permanent residents.

If it looked like the current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, otherwise known as DACA, a grant would result in prevention from deportation and a work authorization card. The current DACA program is a 2-year program renewable at the end of term. Also under DACA, persons with certain criminal convictions are prevented from applying and proof of residence for a 5-year period is required.

Other aspects of the plan include expanding opportunities for immigrants with high-tech skills, strengthening southern border security, increasing immigration officer pay and providing clearer guidance to immigration agents about who should be considered a low-priority (immigrants with no criminal history and family ties) and a high-priority (convicted criminals, national security risks and recent border crossers) for deportation.

According to The Hill, the White House disputed the Fox News report, saying that Obama has yet to make a decision on the specific executive immigration actions he’ll take and is awaiting recommendations form the Department of Homeland Security.

It does seem clear at this point, however, that the president will unilaterally act on immigration, setting up a conflict with Republican adversaries, who have publicly stated that they will attempt to defeat what they call “executive amnesty.”

House Speaker John Boehner, at his first news conference since Republicans’ midterm seat gains, said that unilateral action by the president on immigration reform would “poison the well moving forward.”

A Republican Senate group led by Ted Cruz of Texas has vowed to oppose the passing of a budget bill next month unless it contains a provision barring executive amnesty.

For his part, Obama has consistently said that he prefers Congressional immigration action over executive action. The Senate this June (under a Democratic majority) passed a bipartisan bill that Obama called “a sound, smart, piece of legislation” but that Boehner and House Republicans refused to take up.

In a press conference a day after the elections, Obama said he felt “obliged to do everything that I can lawfully with my executive authority to make sure that we don’t keep on making the system worse.”

“So before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system that will allow us to surge additional resources to the border, where I think the vast majority of Americans have the deepest concern,” he added.

It now appears as though the president is one step closer to making good on his promise.

The Law Office of Catherine Brown will continue to provide updates on this major story as new developments come to light. If you have questions about how Obama’s executive action might affect your or a loved one’s immigration status—or you have any other immigration law questions—please call or contact us for a consultation.