Critics argue President Obama’s executive actions on immigration are an abuse of power. On December 4, the Republican-led House passed a bill aiming to block Obama’s executive actions. To date, 24 states have joined the Texas-led coalition to legally challenge Obama’s immigration actions in court.
Here are 5 myths about Obama’s executive actions on immigration and the facts behind them:
Myth #1: Obama granted amnesty (including lawful status) to millions of undocumented immigrants
Facts: Amnesty is an automatic pardon or free pass granted to a group of individuals. Immigration amnesty is a government’s pardon of undocumented immigrants for violating immigration laws and policies.
In 1986, Congress passed — and Republican President Ronald Reagan signed into law — an immigration reform bill that granted “amnesty” to a large group of illegal immigrants (about 3 million). The law allowed certain undocumented immigrants, who had entered the U.S. before January 1, 1982, and had resided in the U.S. continuously, to apply for permanent residence and gain a path to citizenship. It also legalized certain seasonal agricultural illegal immigrants.
Obama’s executive actions, on the other hand, do not grant permanent residence or a path to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants. It does not provide lawful status. It grants only temporary relief from the threat of deportation and temporary work permits to those who qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parent Accountability (DAPA).
The expanded DACA program and new DAPA program are expected to kick in on February 18, 2015 and May 19, 2015, respectively.
Not all applicants who qualify for DACA or DAPA will seek this temporary relief. According to the Migration Policy Institute, only a little over half of the young immigrants who qualified for DACA, when it was first rolled out, applied for it.
Those who are not in removal proceedings take a risk when they apply for this relief: they have to notify U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that they are in the country illegally. And there is no guarantee their request will be granted.
DACA and DAPA also do not provide long-term protection from deportation. A new president could extend the programs – or not.
If there is no extension, a large number of undocumented immigrants who came out of the shadows could be removable once again. So they need to weigh the risks and benefits, preferably with an experienced immigration attorney, before applying for DACA or DAPA. These programs do not give blanket amnesty.
Myth #2: Obama changed immigration law without Congress’ approval
Facts: Obama did not strike down or repeal existing immigration laws, which only Congress can do. Rather, he directed USCIS, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to focus on deporting felons, not families.
U.S. presidents have executive authority to decide how best to enforce the law and use limited resources. It’s called discretion.
Every president since President Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961) has taken executive action on immigration. Executive actions can include statements of policy by the president (including setting policies on how laws will be enforced) and interpretations of regulations.
Deferred action is the use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against a person for a certain period of time. This existed prior to Obama’s immigration actions. Work permits have been given to those who were granted deferred action long before Obama took office. The DACA and DAPA programs simply formalize the deferred action process for specific groups.
Myth #3: Obama’s executive actions encourage a new wave of illegal immigration and make the border less secure
Facts: The expanded DACA and new DAPA programs are limited to qualified applicants. For one thing, they will need to prove that they have been continuously present in the U.S. since before January 1, 2010.
The November 20 policy directs immigration agencies to focus more on deporting the following categories of unauthorized immigrants: those who pose a threat to national security, border security and public safety; those with three or more misdemeanors; those who recently crossed the border illegally; and those “who have been issued a final order of removal on or after January 1, 2014.”
Most of the resources will be spent on removing those on the high priority list. But this doesn’t necessarily mean fewer people will be deported.
Personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard, USCIS, ICE and CBP will realign to form new task forces for enforcement, while maintaining the “the surge of resources” sent to the U.S.-Mexico border during the unaccompanied minors crisis over the summer. Strengthening the border is a key part of Obama’s executive actions.
Myth #4: Obama’s executive actions hurt the U.S. economy and add costs to U.S. taxpayers
Facts: Current federal law holds that all taxpayers who are deemed “lawfully present” in the U.S. may collect Social Security and Medicare, after they have worked for at least 10 years. They may also receive survivors and disability benefits when they become eligible.
Many undocumented immigrants already file tax returns and pay taxes, regardless of whether they are authorized to work. Some own businesses (usually restaurants, bakeries, convenience stores, and construction companies) and pay business taxes. They contribute to the U.S. economy despite their unlawful status.
The DACA and DAPA programs offer three-year work permits, subject to renewal. Deferred action recipients will receive the same benefits as other taxpayers. But allowing undocumented immigrants to work legally would likely increase tax revenue in payroll taxes.
Executive action beneficiaries will not qualify for other federal benefits such as welfare, food stamps, student financial aid, housing subsidies, Medicaid or benefits under the Affordable Care Act.
The November 20 policy also directs USCIS to promote greater use of the “national interest waiver” for the benefit of the U.S. economy. The national interest waiver allows non-citizens with advanced degrees or exceptional ability to seek green cards without employer sponsorship if their admission is in the national interest.
Immigration agencies are also directed to use “public interest parole” to attract and retain inventors, researchers, and founders of start-up companies “who have been awarded substantial U.S. investor financing or otherwise hold the promise of innovation and job creation through the development of new technologies or the pursuit of cutting edge research.” This could create new jobs for American workers.
Myth #5: Obama’s executive actions derail Congress’ plan to pass immigration reform
Facts: Obama’s executive actions do not prevent legislative action on immigration reform. “I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution,” Obama said in his address on November 20. “And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.”
The bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June 2013 has not been taken up by the House to date. Obama says he was compelled to take executive actions because Congress failed to pass a bill.
Before Obama announced his executive actions, House Speaker John Boehner said in a November 6 news conference that even if Obama agreed not to take any executive action, he couldn’t promise a House floor vote on immigration reform.
While defending his executive actions as necessary and legal, Obama urged Congress to pass a bill in an appearance before 60 activists in Nashville on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, House leaders unveiled a $1.1 trillion spending bill that would fund nearly all the federal government through September 2015. But the bill would fund immigration agencies that carry out Obama’s executive actions only through February 27.
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This article provides general information only. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.