President Barack Obama’s move to prioritize the deportation of criminal immigrants, while giving exemplary undocumented immigrants the ability to remain in the country through deferred action, is smart and fair enforcement policy.
In the face of increasingly clogged deportation courts, constrained budgets and pressure to fix our broken immigration system, the Department of Homeland Security and the President have come to a sensible middle ground with their Deferred Action policy. This bold policy move achieves the rarest of feats in modern politics: a compromise.
Yes, the President’s action does allow a finite number of the best and brightest undocumented immigrants to remain in the country. Yes, it gives these Americans, in every sense of the word but their citizenship status, the ability to continue to contribute to the country. Deferred action also creates a streamlined system of immigration enforcement which will help unclog our deportation courts and allows this administration to better target high priority criminal immigrants.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS),
Deferred action is a form of prosecutorial discretion created to ensure that enforcement resources are not expended on low priority cases, such as individuals who came to the United States as children and meet other key guidelines.
Deferred action does not in any way provide lawful permanent resident status or a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Moreover, it does not excuse undocumented immigrants on American soil of any previous or subsequent periods of unlawful presence.
According to UCSIS, to apply for deferred action immigrants must be younger than 31 as of the June 15th announcement, and must have entered the U.S. before the age of 16. Applicants must also have resided continuously in the country since June 15th, 2007, and must have been in country at the time of the June 15th announcement and when submitting their application. To be eligible, applicants must have entered the U.S. without inspection OR have lost their lawful immigration status before June 15th of this year.
In addition, candidates must be currently enrolled in or recently graduated from school. Alternately, applicants may provide a certificate of completion from high school or a general education development (GED) certificate. Honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States are also eligible for deferred action. Immigrants who have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, or pose a threat to national security or public safety are disqualified from the program.
Individuals may request consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals for a period of two years, subject to renewal, beginning August 15th. Applicants may be eligible for employment authorization for the period of deferred action provided they can demonstrate “an economic necessity for employment.”
For those wondering how deferred action can possibly strengthen and streamline the enforcement capabilities of the Department of Homeland Security, consider this: our immigration court back logs are completely overwhelmed. Today’s immigration courts simply cannot focus their efforts on deporting actual criminal immigrants while also struggling to handle the deportation proceedings of low priority undocumented individuals.
According to Reuters, under the Obama Administration deportations have risen to a record 400,000 individuals each year. This increase has directly impacted our immigration courts. The University of Syracuse’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) states that more than 314,000 deportation cases awaited a resolution in the month of June, a 5.6 percent increase from 2011 and a 20 percent increase from 2010.
In light of the House GOP’s recent efforts to cut DHS enforcement by $484 million, a 1.2 percent cut for the 2013 budget year, the Obama Administration has had to work to streamline DHS enforcement capabilities. While actual immigration legislation remains stalled in the House, Deferred Action is a step forward in fixing our broke immigration system. At the very least it provides a way to allow the best and brightest undocumented immigrants to remain here while enhancing the enforcement capabilities of the federal government. In an era when partisanship is at an all-time high, Deferred Action is a compromise and that is not such a bad thing.
Kristian Ramos is Policy Director, 21st Century Border Initiative, at NDN and The New Politics Institute.