As President Obama’s top second term legislative priority, citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States, slowly dies from lack of momentum in Congress, Obama is expanding his administrative amnesty programs, further weakening the case for conservatives to trust him on the issue.
On Aug. 23, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency issued a new policy directive directing all ICE personnel to “ensure that the agency’s immigration enforcement activities do not unnecessarily disrupt the parental rights” of illegal immigrant parents or guardians of minors. The memo encourages ICE agents to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” in favor of parents “at any stage of an enforcement proceeding” but leniency in favor of parents is “preferable … as early in the case or proceeding as possible.”
In other words, as long as an illegal immigrant can show they have a child in the United States, they can stay.
“President Obama has once again abused his authority and unilaterally refused to enforce our current immigration laws by directing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to stop removing broad categories of unlawful immigrants,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said in a statement August 24. “The primary reason why our immigration system is broken today is because our immigration laws have largely been ignored by past and present administrations. It’s imperative that we prevent this from happening again by taking away the enforcement ‘on/off’ switch from the president.”
Obama’s August 23, policy directive on parents comes after his June 15, 2012 memo granting “deferred action” (also known as “non-priority enforcement status”) to all illegal immigrants who met the following criteria:
- under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012
- came to the U.S. while under the age of 16
- continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to the present
- entered the U.S. without inspection before June 15, 2012, or individuals whose lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012
- physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012
- currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces
- have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors and do not pose a threat to national security or public safety.
This list may seem like it limits Obama’s power to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants, but in reality it does not. These criteria may have been inspired by the DREAM Act that Democrats tried to pass in 2011, but that bill never became law. Obama could drop or add requirements to this list at will.
As legal scholars have noted, Obama could not grant deferred action to all illegal immigrants, but there is nothing stopping him from say, abandoning every item on the above criteria but say the felony offense/threat to national security ban.
An announcement by Obama granting such a broad amnesty all at once might spark a backlash that amnesty advocates want to avoid. Instead, look for Obama to keep slowly expanding his existing amnesty programs.