President Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would no longer deport the parents of U.S. citizens and Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) as part of an executive action on immigration on Nov. 20. Deferred Action for Parental Responsibility (DAPA) provides temporary relief from deportation and grants work permits to individuals have a U.S. citizen or LPR son or daughter, have lived continuously in the United States since before Jan. 1, 2010, do not have legal immigration status, pass a background check.
Further, there is a caveat that individuals applying for DAPA, “present no other factors that would render a grant of deferred action inappropriate.” In other words, the DHS still has the final say and allows for a great deal of agency discretion.
There is also another large exception. The program stipulates that individuals applying for DAPA must not be an “enforcement priority”— simply put, persons that have committed crimes, or are deemed a threat to public safety or national security.
Throughout his presidency, Obama has focused on deporting criminals. Over half of the people deported in the last several years have criminal records. This is in part due to the implementation of the Secure Communities program that works with local law enforcement.
Aside from the advantage of potentially reducing crime, convicted criminals often bypass immigration courts, which are already backlogged with the average wait time for an immigration court is over 500 days.
Obama also announced that age cap for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) would be eliminated. The program, which works similarly to DAPA, applies to undocumented immigrants that were brought into the country before they turned 16. Previously, the program was limited to those who entered before 1981.
To be clear, DAPA and DACA are not amnesty, they are merely an act of presidential discretion. The terms are rather vague, but so long as they don’t misbehave and play by the rules, certain undocumented immigrants can stay for now. = The terms are rather vague, but so long as people looking to participate in the program don’t break any laws, they can stay for now.
President Obama is doing the best he can to work with a broken immigration system.
The last time the United States had major immigration reform was 1990, the same year the Soviet Union broke up and several years before most current TU students were born. Since then, we have seen major demographic and economic changes both globally and here at home.
On the other hand penalties against undocumented immigrants have increased—today immigrants who have been living in the United States without documents for over a year are barred from applying for legal entry for 10 years. In fact, there is no current system in place for undocumented migrants to obtain legal status while they are in the country. While it is vital to uphold the rule of law, our country cannot afford to rip out the undocumented immigrants that make up 5.2 percent of the labor force.
Meanwhile, the budgets for the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other enforcement agencies have exploded. The budget of U.S Customs and Border Protection skyrocketed from under 6 billion dollars in 2005 to 12.4 billion this year. And according to studies done at Princeton and U.C. San Diego, increased border enforcement does not deter people from crossing the border.
With 11 million undocumented immigrants living the United States, it does not make sense to deport them all. Not only would it costs billions through expansion of immigration agencies and immigration courts, but it would tear apart families, and it ultimately goes against the notion of America as a land of opportunity.
It also does not make sense to prohibit them from working. By issuing work permits, it allows the government to not only keep tabs on who is in the country and where they are living and working, but it makes it easier to collect taxes. Further, the notion that immigrants take native-born workers’ jobs or lowers wages paints an incomplete picture, ignoring the cycling through of the migrants wages into the economy, spurring consumption and incentivizing production.
President Obama has limited tools: there are only a select number of actions he can take without Congressional approval. Further, DHS has a limited budget and the immigration courts are already backlogged. DAPA relieves some immigrants’ fear of deportation while allowing them to work, stimulating the economy and making it easier to collect taxes. It also allows the DHS to focus its resources on finding and deporting others who pose a threat to country or, at the very least, have not started a family here.
However, the President’s actions are only a drop in the hat of a larger immigration problem. Only Congress can reform the complex family-based and employment-based system that legal immigration depends on. Only Congress can increase immigration court funding to reduce the long wait times. Only Congress can allow true amnesty.