Obama to Take Executive Action on Immigration Reform

Immigration Reform

After years of anticipation and disappointment surrounding the government’s failure to take action on comprehensive immigration reform, President Obama is stepping up.  He’s scheduled to announce a new wave of administrative relief, similar to what he did for the “Dreamers” with the 2012 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) executive order, but which will likely apply to a much larger swath of the immigrant population in the U.S.
Though he made the announcement November 20th (last Thursday), the specifics of the changes will take weeks, or even months, to emerge.  The Department of Homeland Security will have to react to the announcement by issuing regulations on how to implement the new rules, and to provide some sort of mechanism to access it like they did with USCIS Form I-821D for DACA.

I, like most other immigration attorneys, have been fielding calls about the announcement all week.  I don’t have answers yet, but we anticipate new options for the millions of people who have established a long-term presence here in the U.S., do not have serious criminal records, and have children who were born here.  Even though it won’t be the sweeping legislative reform that we’ve hoped for, this is a seminal moment in the history of immigration law in the U.S. and a very exciting time to be an immigration attorney.

My biggest question and concern for this reform is whether or not the many individuals who will meet all the qualifications that Obama sets forth in the order, but who have prior orders of removal/deportation, will still be able to access the benefits.  Will these people be automatically eligible despite their outstanding orders, or will they have to file motions to reopen and terminate the prior proceedings with DHS/ICE attorneys?  If so, how will the DHS Office of Chief Counsel handle what will surely be an absolute deluge of new motions to reopen on top of their already-swamped caseloads?  How will the EOIR immigration courts handle cases of individuals who are currently in removal proceedings but are now eligible for the new benefits?

I just had a hearing in the Arlington, VA immigration court last week in which my client was given a date for an asylum trial on the judge’s next available opening. It was in January of 2018.  Will these outrageously-long backlogs in the courts (not to mention the decade-plus wait times for many of the family-based petitions now pending with USCIS) be alleviated by Obama’s executive action?  I hope so, but I also worry that the Republican-controlled Congress – who is currently batting around talk of impeachment or de-funding the government as a result of Obama’s executive action – doesn’t try to place obstacles in the President’s way by tightening the purse strings.  After all, without government staff and funding to process the potentially millions of new beneficiaries, the benefits of this new order might take quite a while to reach those it’s supposed to help.

Stay tuned for the next chapter, and feel free to call us if you have questions about how or if this will affect you, your family, or those you care about.