Bar News - December 17, 2014
Opinion: A NH Immigration Lawyer’s Perspective on Executive Action
By: Randall Drew
Perhaps you have heard that President Barack Obama recently declared himself King and tore up the Constitution to thwart the rule of law regarding immigration. Well, that’s not exactly true. The president did give a speech and published two presidential memoranda on immigration. Those two memos, however, were both rather vague and announced some pretty uncontroversial ideas, such as “…streamline and improve the legal immigration system…” and “...modernize the information technology infrastructure underlying the visa processing system…”
The controversial policy changes have been left to the cabinet members of the relevant agencies; particularly Homeland Security and Labor. There are several changes coming to the inner workings of the immigration system – things that should improve the efficiency and customer service aspects of the bureaucracy quite a lot. But nobody cares about that, unless they are trying to hire an immigrant worker, petition for a family member, or work on immigration cases, as I do.
The really big news about the executive action is the shift of enforcement resources away from “wide net” interior sweep toward a targeted approach against dangerous criminals and recent arrivals, and concentrating on the Southwestern border. As part of this kinder/gentler approach, the secretary of Homeland Security (at the president’s direction) has expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and created an additional class of persons eligible for deferred action: parents of US citizen or lawful permanent resident children. This new program is called the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA).
Is this executive amnesty? Not really. Amnesty implies forgiveness of a violation of immigration law (e.g. illegal entry or visa overstay) and a path to permanent status or citizenship. DACA and DAPA provide only a temporary formal deferral of a person’s removal from the United States. It does not end the threat that eventually, even a DACA or DAPA beneficiary will face deportation. What DACA and DAPA have done and will do is allow some people who have been living here without documents to come out of the shadows; get temporary permission to work, obtain a legitimate social security number, file a proper tax return, and get a legal driver’s license. It allows people to stop breaking the law out of necessity.
If you are in the self-deportation camp (the philosophy that we should make living here such an awful and treacherous experience that undocumented people will voluntarily choose to leave) you are not going to like these measures. I really can’t help with that. I would only point out that we are talking about persons who entered the United States when they were children and/or are parents of US citizen children and who have resided in the country since 2009. I personally am not interested in discovering how spiteful, horrid, petty and mean we can be to these folks – but maybe that’s just me.
Sure, I am biased; this will be good for my business. In truth, I also am hoping that these program changes will last long enough to see a comprehensive immigration reform act pass through Congress. But, biased or not, I also have likely met more immigrants (legal or otherwise) than many Bar News readers, in my close to 20 years as an immigration lawyer. That is how I know that many of them will flourish when given this chance.
Having even a temporary status can allow them to seek a better job for higher wages, pursue higher education (although without financial assistance), and have some stability to make financial decisions like renting a better apartment, registering a car, opening a bank account – things many of us take for granted. These are all positives for the previously undocumented and for the state’s economy and public safety in general.
I commented here back in May on a change to NH law for 2015 that will increase the penalty for first offense driving without a license from a violation to a misdemeanor, if the driver had never had a valid license. I suspect this change will mostly impact undocumented immigrants who are not eligible to receive a New Hampshire driver’s license. Yet they still have to get kids to school, bring home groceries from the store, and get to work and back – usually on a non-Uber-ready budget. For some, but by no means all, DACA and DAPA will change that, so they can stop looking over their shoulders and get on with living their lives.
Attorney Randall Drew is a New Hampshire native who concentrates on immigration law at Drew Law Office in Bedford.