Yesterday, November 20, 2014 was a huge day in the immigration arena, a festive Thanksgiving buffet of options for a range of potential immigrants. First, President Obama without much fanfare designated Temporary Protected Status for up to 18 months for nationals of the nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia which are struggling with an epidemic of Ebola. Then in a highly publicized, televised event, the president announced that he is once again taking executive action which will lift the threat of deportation from a large class of people currently living in the U.S. without legal status. This new action is similar in kind to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program of 2012, which I have written about before.
The exact parameters of who will be eligible for deferred action or prosecutorial discretion under the new programs have not been announced, but the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has posted a basic overview of expected programs on its website. Highlights include:
- expansion of the DACA program to older immigrants and immigrants who arrived later in time (living in the U.S. since before 2010 rather than mid-2007).
- a companion program of deferred action aimed at the parents of U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident children. This group will likewise need to show continuous residence since 2010, and be otherwise low-priority for deportation.
While no exact date was announced for the start of these programs, the memo on new enforcement priorities for Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not take effect until January 5, 2015. Therefore, it is likely that at least the Deferred Action for Parents which references this memo would also not be available until after January 5, 2015 at the earliest. People who might qualify are urged to begin gathering identification documents and evidence of continuous residence in advance, however. In his address, President Obama estimated that these expanded Deferred Action programs could affect up to 5 million people currently residing in the United States. By offering deferred action to parents of U.S. citizens, the president is taking a huge step towards alleviating the damage done to many U.S. citizen families by our current rigid and unforgiving immigration laws.
In another move to preserve family unity, the president announced an expansion of the provisional waiver program, which currently allows the spouses and children of U.S. Citizens to find out if they will qualify for a waiver of "unlawful presence" before they leave the country to apply for an immigrant visa. Not only will the program be expanded to spouses and children of Lawful Permanent Residents, the executive branch is finally promising some guidance on what qualifies as "extreme hardship" needed to obtain a waiver. Such clarification is much needed, as practitioners who work on many such waivers say the current adjudications are something of a gamble, with similarly situated clients being approved or denied seemingly on the whim of the officer.
The president also promised some help for frustrated foreign entrepreneurs, and highly skilled workers who are waiting years for green cards due to backlogs in the quotas for employment visas. Few concrete details have been forthcoming yet on how these programs will be implemented.
None of this is any sort of permanent fix to a very broken system, but these are small steps that will improve life for many American families.