President Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration Reform

by Matthew Bray

Last night President Obama made a long-awaited major announcement to the nation regarding the administration of the immigration system. Though short, the announcement will have an enormous impact on millions of people living in the United States without legal status. US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) today published a summary of the impending changes which provides a few more details but highlights the fact that there is much to be done to put these changes into effect. 

While all the details are yet to be released, the key piece of the announcement is a deferral of deportation for the millions of law-abiding undocumented immigrants who can prove that they were present in the US for at least five years, have US citizen or legal resident children, pass a background security check, and are willing to pay their “fair share” of taxes.

The President also announced some changes to the business immigration system designed to improve the chances for entrepreneurs and other business creators to remain in and enter the country in the future.

Before the announcement, the White House held a briefing with more details about each element of this plan. They include the expansion of the DACA program by eliminating the age limit (currently thirty-one years) for applicants who were brought to the US as children as well as expanding the period of validity of the deferred action to three years (currently two).

The plan also includes important tweaks to the enforcement priorities of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, the enforcement wing of immigration), clarifying that priority must be placed on the apprehension and removal of non-citizens who present a risk to national security and public safety.  In addition, individuals who are the beneficiaries of approved immigrant petitions filed by their employers, but whose cases are held up in the severe immigrant visa backlogs, will be able to apply for adjustment of status. While this will not necessarily result in their Green Card being issued any faster, it may give them more flexibility in their career advancement.

While the details of each component of the President’s plan have not yet been fully released or digested by immigration lawyers and advocates (we are in the process of reviewing all the finer points of the President’s plan), it is clear that the announcement will have a significant effect on millions of people—authorized and undocumented immigrants alike. It is also clear that there will be a considerable pushback from Congress in January, when the Republicans take control of both chambers.

We will be tracking the President’s plan and its implementation, and will continue to post updates as they are available.