Big immigration news is more of the same

By Angela Williams

The Daily Record Newswire

In light of Obama's most recent proclamation on immigration and the impending Supreme Court decision on Arizona's controversial immigration bill, I thought a few comments were in order.

Obama's Big News (part II) is almost exactly the same as the announcement last year that turned out to be a whole lot of whining and crying for nothing. There was no real exercise of discretion. In fact, the most recent numbers from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse indicate that of the 298,173 cases pending at the time of Obama's Big News (part I) only 4,585 cases actually have been closed through "prosecutorial discretion," about 1.5 percent.

Remember the first announcement stated that "low priority" enforcement targets should be closed as a matter of discretion. This was all low-priority enforcement. Obama's Big News (part II) only purports to halt the removal of young people brought to the United States illegally through no fault of their own. That was the sound bite at least: Obama stops deportation of millions of DREAMers.

The official announcement is less expansive. "[E]ffective immediately, certain young people who were brought to the United States as young children, do not present a risk to national security or public safety, and meet several key criteria will be considered for relief from removal from the country or entering into removal proceedings."

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is quick to point out that they may be eligible, that this is not a right or a law or a guarantee.

Vague at best

The minutia are even more confusing and are compounded by the fact that apparently people not already in proceedings will be able to apply for some sort of a status through a process that has yet to be written under guidelines that are vague at best. Similarly, while U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was commanded to promulgate rules and procedures within 60 days on how to implement this affirmative Deferred Action, a recent conference call with stakeholder U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas and Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner David Aguilar made it clear that much of the interpretation of the less-than-clear directive will be left up to the local field offices and trial attorneys -- the same people who in many cases openly refused to follow the directive on prosecutorial discretion for low-priority enforcement targets from Obama's Big News (part I) from June 2011. The same people have exercised their discretion a sum total of 1.5 percent of the time. Similarly they also made it clear that if you guess wrong and actually do not qualify for affirmative deferred action, all the rules related to putting people in removal will still be in place. So guess wrong and you are in deportation proceedings.

The vague qualifications for this program, both defensively and affirmatively, include being no more than 30 years old as of June 15 (unclear if this means up to the 30th birthday or prior to your 31st birthday); have no felonies; no "significant misdemeanors" (This wasn't even a definition until mid-June and now includes a list of possible misdemeanors including driving under the influence. But still the Department of Homeland Security indicates that further guidance on DUIs will be forthcoming); no convictions for multiple misdemeanors (could potentially include even traffic tickets like driving without a driver's license or playing music too loud); is currently in school or has graduated from high school or gotten a GED (questions as to whether that means at the time they apply or as of June 15); or is a veteran who has been honorably discharged from military service (This is particularly confusing because an undocumented person cannot serve in the military). There are many issues that need to be clearer as to who can apply, on top of the fact that right now there is literally no way to apply.

No guarantee

The affirmative application process, if it ever actually happens, is something new. It also has the potential to offer some help to some DREAMers stuck in the limbo of having grown up here but no status to match what they feel in their hearts. But, and I hate to be a downer, there is no guarantee even people who meet the qualifications are going to be approved. And if they are, how long will they have the status? The memo says work cards will be good for two years, but what then? If Obama loses, can Romney take it away? At best those kids will lose their work cards. At worst they will be put into deportation. I have a lot of questions and concerns about the affirmative procedure, again, if it even happens.

The defensive option isn't even really new. Someone in removal could always ask for closure for a specific humanitarian or compelling reason. If it was closed, they could have applied for a work card. They could have petitioned ICE to not physically remove them from the country for a specific reason for a short or long period of time, and ICE could always grant that or not. This isn't even new. It was the same as Obama's Big News (part I) from last year, but it just more specifically applies to DREAMers, well some of them at least.

Of course the Republicans are all in a tizzy, yelling and fist pounding and speaking in emphatic and authoritative tones about how he has crossed the line. The LA Times reported that Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Ariz. and son of former spelling-challenged Vice President Dan Quayle, introduced the "Prohibiting Back-Door Amnesty Act of 2012" to try to prevent the plan from taking effect.

'Stunning'

He also called "President Obama and Secretary Napolitano's decision to end the enforcement of many of our nation's immigration laws ... stunning in both its arrogance and shortsightedness."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Romney's BFF and rumored short list of VP candidates, is pouting at Obama's stealing his thunder and has shelved his supposed efforts over the last few months to write a Republican version of the DREAM Act. And House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that the presidential announcement is going to "make it much more difficult for us to work in a bipartisan way to get a permanent solution." Wow. Really? I am shocked he could even say that with a straight face because those self-absorbed and self-serving megalomaniacs on the Hill have been doing a bang-up job so far at being bipartisan.

To me it appears we have been in a downward slide to this polarization for a long time. They are becoming increasingly unwilling to compromise on anything, making the possibility of really fixing some of our major problems, the budget, our massive debt, the economy, health care and, yes, immigration, impossible.

If some DREAMers get deferred action either defensively or affirmatively, I will be glad. They are heartbreaking cases to be involved with and another example of how broken our system is. But all this hair pulling and fist pounding is ridiculous. At first glance, this is barely different than last year's Big News, which was barely different than what was already the policy regarding discretion in immigration enforcement.

I unfortunately have lost all faith in our leaders, and I don't believe any of them really care to fix this problem.

I've got news for you. It is all everyone's fault, and it is not going to get better by being too spineless to step up and say, "I don't care if Obama just announced something pro-immigration, I am going to unveil my idea for reform from the Republican perspective anyway, even if it makes it look slightly like I agree with him on something."

Though I likely will not agree with Sen. Rubio's entire supposed Republican DREAM Act, it would be something to discuss, somewhere to begin. So quit pouting and introduce it already. Get the discussion going, a real discussion. Sadly I think that would be too much to ask these ersatz adults to do. It seems like a far better plan to keep doing nothing and blaming everyone else and let the problem get worse and worse. That will certainly fix everything.

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Angela L. Williams is a Kansas City-based immigration attorney.

Published: Wed, Jun 27, 2012

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