Implementing Obama’s Immigration Reform

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Explanation of the Executive Action

As a preliminary note, it is important to understand that the strategy proposed by the President in his speech on November 20, 2014, is categorized as an executive action, not an executive order.

Executive actions are a set of policy goals set forth by the President, applied to agencies and employees in the executive branch. This includes those responsible for enforcing the nation’s immigration laws such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

An executive order is a legally binding directive issued to federal agencies and their employees under the President’s statutory and constitutional powers.

President Obama’s immigration reform speech Thursday was an example of executive action.

It is also important to remember that the President’s plan will not directly provide pathways to earned citizenship, which will always require Congressional approval.

What the plan does is encourage those who have been living outside of the system, to step forward as a good faith statement that they want to play by the rules and respect the laws of our Nation. It will provide protection and work authorization for people who may be eligible for legal status eventually (through their relatives for example), but are currently at risk of being deported.

Those eligible for deferred deportation will be allowed to legally work in the United States as long as they file an application, pass a background check, and pay a fee.

Implementation of the Immigration Reform Proposals

The USCIS and other executive agencies are responsible for implementing the executive action as soon as possible.

The program is expected to launch in Spring of 2015. Some pieces of the plan will take several months to implement, some may take longer. Whatever the time frame, the overall success of the Deferred Action component of the President’s plan depends a great deal on whether or not those eligible actually apply.

The primary agency for implementing the president’s new immigration executive order is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is an agency that is entirely funded via fees it collects from various immigration related petitions and applications.

In other words, the issuance of green cards, work permits, and other immigration status benefits are not funded by funds appropriated by Congress.

Potential Pitfalls

There will undoubtedly be fervent, ongoing opposition to the President’s proposed agenda (such opposition actually began prior to his speech on November 20).

The USCIS has the ability to continue to collect and use fees to continue current operations, and to expand operations as under a new executive order, without needing legislative approval by the Appropriations Committee or Congress.

So while opponents in the House or Senate may not be able to “defund” initiatives contained within the executive action, there is sure to be opposition in the form of bills which contradict or reverse initiatives proposed by the Whitehouse, or “riders” attached to appropriations bills intended to kill the President’s immigration programs.

Finally, what is done by one executive can be just as easily undone by a successor. Whoever replaces Mr. Obama in 2016 will have the ability to dial down the plan or eliminate it altogether.

What should I do?

Given the uncertainty surrounding the long-term success of the President’s immigration programs, it is critical for those who may benefit from the programs to apply for the applicable options as soon as they are made available.

Remember, these initiatives may take months to fully implement, but for those whom the proposed plan may be applicable to, you should begin preparing now by gathering documents demonstrating your eligibility.

This blog post was written by Lightman Law Firm Associate Attorney, Matthew G. Curtis.

For more information on Obama’s Immigration Reform Proposals
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