Obama May Cut Deportations

Laura Meckler, Wall Street Journal, October 29, 2014

The White House is considering two central requirements in deciding which of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants would gain protections through an expected executive action: a minimum length of time in the U.S., and a person’s family ties to others in the country, said people familiar with the administration’s thinking.

Those requirements, depending on how broadly they are drawn, could offer protection to between one million and four million people in the country illegally.

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Mr. Obama, who has been criticized by immigrant-rights advocates for the delay, wants to grant new protections–such as safe harbor from deportation and work permits–to many people who are in the U.S. illegally but have significant ties to the country, said three people familiar with White House thinking.

Such protections would be temporary since the president lacks authority to give people permanent legal status.

One person said officials are leaning toward granting protections to people in the country illegally for 10 years and who meet other criteria, though that could be broadened to include more recent arrivals.

Parents of U.S. citizens are likely to qualify, people familiar with discussions said, as long as they meet other criteria. But it is unclear whether the policy would include parents of so-called Dreamers–people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, and who were given a temporary legal status in 2012.

Also unclear is whether other family ties, such as being married to a U.S. citizen, would qualify somebody for new protections. Illegal immigrants cannot win legal status by marriage unless they return to their home country for a period of years.

The answers to those questions will determine whether up to four million people or as few as just over one million gain protections, according to estimates prepared by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, which the White House has consulted.

White House spokeswoman Katherine Vargas said the president hasn’t made a decision or even received recommendations from his cabinet secretaries. “It is premature to speculate about the specific details,” she said. Still, a mid-December announcement of the change is expected by many immigration experts.

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White House officials also are considering allowing more young people into the 2012 “Dreamer’’ program that grants temporary legal status and work permits to those who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, according to two people familiar with discussions. Some 580,000 people were enrolled in the program as of June.

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One person people familiar with the process said the White House is trying to craft a plan that survives Mr. Obama’s presidency and isn’t so unpopular that a future Republican president could easily reverse it. “It has to be politically sustainable,” this person said.

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The White House also is expected to change criteria used in deciding who is a priority for deportation. It may, for instance, say a traffic violation doesn’t make someone a priority, though other convictions do. The legal rationale is that the administration lacks the capacity to deport all illegal immigrants and has discretion to set priorities.

Other changes are expected to benefit businesses that use large numbers of legal immigrants, such as technology companies. One change under consideration would “recapture” unused visas from previous years in order to make more visas available to such companies, according to one person familiar with the deliberations. This person said that a second change that companies have requested–changing the way visas are counted so that a family unit counts as only one spot toward the limit–is less likely.

This person said the administration is also considering a change that would make it easier for foreign students to stay in the U.S. after graduation while they await employment-based visas.

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