Last week I wrote about the various proposals before Congress to give legal status to many of the young immigrants who were brought here as children and are living here without legal status. Then big news broke on that very topic Friday, as President Obama announced a plan to grant
'deferred action" to many of these young people. This announcement raises the question of just what is "deferred action," and how does this compare to actual legal permanent residency.
"Deferred action" is not a new concept, though it has not previously been granted to this group of immigrants. For more than a decade, USCIS has been granting "deferred action" to low-risk immigrants who are already in the country but who do not currently qualify for a visa. For example, immigrant spouses of legal permanent residents (green card holders) can petition on their own for a visa if the green card holding spouse is abusive and will not sponsor the abused spouse. These self-petitioning spouses are often granted "deferred" action for years because of the backlog of visas for spouses of green card holders.
The President himself described "deferred action" succinctly in his speech announcing the program. He stated that "This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people." "Deferred action" will not get these young people out of immigration limbo, it is little more than a promise by the executive branch that says "unless something else happens, we don't plan to deport you." It is really as much as the executive branch can do absent action by the legislature, though. Only Congress can create new visas or amend the rules on how many visas are available and who qualifies to get them.
Here are some specific limitations of "deferred action" as opposed to an immigrant visa which leads to a green card:
Legal Permanent Resident (Green Card Holder):
-Can work in the U.S. at any job permanently.
-Can travel abroad freely, for trips of less than 6 months
-Can petition for spouse, children, and certain other relatives to immigrate to the United States.
-Status does not expire, though card itself needs to be renewed from time to time.
-Eligible for almost all publicly funded programs such as federal student aid.
-Can naturalize (become a citizen) after three or five years as a legal permanent resident.
-Can work in U.S. at any job, but authorization document will have expiration date.
-No clear right to return to the country if you travel abroad, USCIS will be working on system for allowing short trips abroad.
-No legal status means no right to petition for any other relatives.
-Non-status could be revoked at any time, a change of political leadership could cancel entire program.
-Eligible for certain tax credits, SNAP, and a few other public benefits if otherwise qualified.
-Must renew "deferred action" every two years.
-No path to citizenship.
At stakeholder conference call yesterday, USCIS stated affirmatively that they will NOT be accepting applications for deferred action under this program until all procedures and forms are finalized, probably at or near the end of 60 day period. An official announcement will be made at that time. Do NOT try to apply for deferred action before that, and do NOT pay money to any person promising to file application for you before the official announcement.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will affirmatively take it upon themselves to review cases before them and grant deferred action to qualified immigrants. Immigrants who are in removal proceedings and believe they qualify may also notify ICE and provide evidence in support.
The agencies do not plan to target relatives of immigrants who apply for deferred action. Nor will immigrants who apply and are denied for reasons other than fraud be targeted for removal. rather, the same standards which ICE and USCIS use when determining which immigrants to place in removal proceedings will apply to applicants and their relatives as well.
The agencies have set up special webpages and hotlines specific to this new deferred action program:
USCIS hotline: 1-800-375-5283
ICE hotline: 1-888-351-4024