President Obama is preparing to announce a 10-point plan to overhaul U.S. immigration policy via executive action, according to a draft proposal, that could add as many as five million new legal workers. The president is expected to make the announcement shortly after his return from the Asia Summit. Our readers doubtless are aware that the United States is home to roughly 12 million illegal immigrants. Voices from across the political spectrum have long called for reform of the nation’s immigration system. As Chief Executive, the president is responsible for administration of our immigration system. Invoking his executive authority, the president proposes a 10-point plan to expand employment authorization, increase the number of skilled worker visas, heighten border security, and increase deportations of criminal aliens. Four of the president’s proposed measures are of particular note because they will result in a dramatic increase in the number of foreign workers who will be joining the legal workforce, paying taxes, completing I-9s, driving cars, enrolling in schools, obtaining car and health insurance, and participating more robustly in the U.S. economy. These four measures are:
1. Expand “deferred action” for young illegal immigrants.
This action would expand the program initiated by the president in June 2012, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, entered before June 2007, and were under age 31 as of June 2012. Applicants to the program must have enrolled in school and/or served in the military and not have committed certain criminal offenses. DACA does not provide legal status and is not a path to permanent residence or citizenship. Rather, DACA provides the ability to work legally, pay taxes, apply for a Social Security number, and apply for a driver’s license. Under the president’s expected plan, the DACA program would be expanded to cover anyone who entered the U.S. before they were age 16, and extend the cut-off date to January 1, 2010. It is estimated that an additional 300,000 illegal immigrants will be eligible.
2. Expand “deferred action” for parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
This measure would significantly expand the DACA program by also providing employment authorization and related benefits to adult illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than five years and have children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. This measure could allow an additional four and a half million illegal immigrant adults to stay, according to estimates.
3. Expand high-tech visas.
The plan calls for working with the State Department to expand visas for foreign-born workers with high-tech skills, to support U.S. businesses. This is projected to offer another half-million immigrants a path to citizenship. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other supporters of such measures have long called for an increase in the number of visas available to skilled workers in order to attract foreign talent and make the U.S. more competitive.
4. Expand provisional waivers to spouses and children of legal permanent residents.
This effort would expand a provisional waiver program announced in January 2013, for undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens. Under current law, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who are not eligible to become permanent residents in the U.S. must travel abroad and obtain an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad. Individuals who have accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence while in the U.S. must obtain a waiver of inadmissibility before they can return to the U.S. The provisional unlawful presence waiver process allows individuals, who only need a waiver of inadmissibility for unlawful presence, to apply for a waiver while still in the U.S. and before they depart for their immigrant visa interviews at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. The president’s plan calls for an expansion of this program, though the details are unclear.
The remaining measures address concerns related to border security; deportation of aliens convicted of serious crimes; cooperation with local law enforcement in the identification, interdiction, and deportation of criminal aliens; an increase in pay for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers; and measures to make it less costly to become a U.S. citizen.
Though it is uncertain if any or all of these proposed measures will be implemented, in the absence of Congressional action, the president seems determined to act before the end of the year, just as the holidays approach. Whatever he does, positive and negative perceptions will be plentiful and will come from every direction, including from supporters, opponents, legal and illegal immigrants, law enforcement, the business sector, and every other stake holder who has long been concerned with the presence of 12 million illegal immigrants and the impact of such a large number of persons on our communities, schools, hospitals, businesses, and the country as a whole.