A Door Opens for Deserving Immigrants
Tonight President Barack Obama used his legal authority to take sweeping action to overhaul our nation’s broken immigration system. There are a number of provisions in the plan, but there is a clear theme: we will keep families together by easing the threat of deportation for hardworking immigrants, and focus our resources on removing those immigrants who pose a real threat to national security. This is welcome news for all of us who, in the face of continuing inaction by Congress, have been calling on the President to do everything within his power to improve how immigration laws are enforced.
According to a briefing by US Citizenship & Immigration Services, delivered shortly before the President’s address, the plan will provide protection from deportation for an estimated 5 million unauthorized immigrants.
The provision with the largest impact will provide relief to the parents of children who are US citizens and Legal Permanent Residents. Eligible parents must have been living in the United States for at least five years, pass a criminal background check, and pay income taxes.
The plan also expands Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy introduced in 2012 that provides temporary relief to immigrants who were brought to the US as young children. Specifically: the date for when an immigrant must have arrived in the US has been moved from June 2007 to January 1, 2010; the maximum age limit (31 years as of June 2012) has been eliminated; and the duration of a recipient’s temporary work authorization has been increased from two years to three years.
While not a pathway to full legal status or public benefits, those who qualify will no longer live under the threat of deportation, and will be entitled to receive employment authorization and other benefits including Social Security numbers and state-issued identification. This will remove a crippling barrier for many hardworking immigrants who have been forced to work under the table, often for illegally low wages and in substandard conditions. Most importantly, thousands of families who have lived in fear can now be assured that parents and children will not be torn apart.
The plan includes a number of other welcome steps that will shift enforcement emphasis away from deporting immigrants with strong community ties and no criminal records by eliminating a controversial Homeland Security Program that rapidly pushes immigrants into detention and deportation, and by strengthening policy guidance for immigration authorities, and implementing immigration court reforms.
Every day, immigration attorneys have had the unfortunate task of telling an unauthorized immigrant that she or he is not eligible for any form of immigration relief. Here is one such story: Cristina came to the US from the Dominican Republic in 2000 on a temporary visa to help care for an elderly aunt with chronic health problems. She stayed on after her visa expired and settled in Brooklyn, where she met her future husband, who is also undocumented. The couple had two daughters, now 10 and 8. In 2009, Cristina’s husband was seized by immigration authorities on his way home from a visit with relatives in New Jersey. He was deported soon after. Separated from her husband, and desperate to avoid being deported, Cristina has lived a life of fear, isolation and poverty, constantly worried that she will be discovered and taken away from her daughters. For the last seven years she has cleaned houses for a living to avoid being asked for the working papers she does not have.
Thanks to President Obama’s plan, Cristina is now eligible, as the parent of US citizens, for protection from deportation and can be granted work authorization, giving her the opportunity to find a better paying job and support her family.
The implications of the President’s action for New York City’s immigrants, and those of us who serve them, are enormous. An estimated 300,000 City residents may be eligible for relief. There will be a several month period of preparation before these measures take effect. During what is sure to be a confusing time for a vulnerable population, our priority now is to provide clear, consistent information that can help people prepare, understand their rights, and avoid immigration fraud. We look forward to working with City and State agencies, elected officials, community organizations and funders to create a Citywide initiative that will help deserving immigrants safely and efficiently navigate this new legal landscape. Click here for more information about NYLAG’s Administrative Relief readiness plan.
This is a great day for millions of people, and especially for New York – a city built on the dreams of generations of immigrants. But the promise of comprehensive reform remains tragically unfulfilled for many. Only Congress can take the action necessary to alleviate the hardships suffered by the millions of immigrants not touched by what happened today.
Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge