On November 20, 2014 President Barack Obama announced the long-awaited executive action he planned take to defer deportation of several classes of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. This deferral program would affect up to an estimated 4 million people in addition to the youth assisted by his order of deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) issued June 2012. Under DACA, over 600,000 people brought here as children before 2007 gained special deferral status that permits them to work lawfully in the United States, to apply for a driver’s license, and to be free from the threat of deportation.
The new program the President announced (called DAPA) would permit undocumented persons who have lived here continuously for over five years, have at least one child who is a citizen or lawful permanent resident, are willing to pay a fee and any back taxes they owe, and have lived within the law (no serious criminal record) to apply for a three-year deferral from deportation. The program would also add more people eligible for the DACA program.
This is not a blanket amnesty. That is, no one would automatically receive the deferral. If implemented, undocumented persons who believe they are eligible would have to apply using forms and processes that the US Department of Homeland Security must set up. Nor does this program confer lawful status—only Congressional action can do that.
Nevertheless, 26 states appealed the President’s November 20 action, claiming he had exceeded his constitutional authority by issuing what they considered to be “rules” without the mandatory public comment period. The Administration responded that it has the discretion to determine what classes of people should be subject to deportation under the rubric of prosecutorial authority.
On February 16, 2105 Judge Andrew Harnes of the Southern District of Texas ruled in favor of the plaintiffs (the 26 states) and issued an order halting the implementation of the DAPA program and the DACA expansion plan. The Obama Administration has asked the judge to reconsider his order, and will likely appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals if he denies the request.
The federal judge’s action has halted all actions under the President’s action of November 20, 2014. No forms are being issued by the Department of Homeland Security, and clinics and training sessions scheduled by advocacy, community and faith based groups have, for the most part, been postponed until and unless the Judge Harnes order is overturned.
However, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) action of June 2012 remains in force. Applications for that program and extensions for successful applicants who have completed the two year deferral period are continuing.
While this all sounds complicated the Immigration Task Force of UUSJ welcomes the President’s actions. It is clear to us that Congress has no intention of sending reform legislation to the President. Meanwhile, over 11 million undocumented persons continue to live in legal limbo, in fear of separation from their families and deportation.
Under Dean Wanderer’s leadership the UUSJ task force is working out ways to help UU congregations be most effective by assisting them in responding to needs of DACA applicants and by doing policy work on Capitol Hill to keep up the pressure for a just and equitable immigration reform law. We will work with other groups to energize a coalition in our region that can provide the leadership needed to be of maximum help to immigrants during the coming months. Watch this space for updates as events unfold.
UUSJ Immigration Task Force