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Category Archives: President Obama’s 2014 Executive Action
Two years ago, Coca-Cola’s 60 second Super Bowl advertisement featuring people singing a multilingual version of “America the Beautiful” sparked a national discussion of immigration and diversity. (Click here to read my comments in response to the bigotry that followed that ad. ) Is it any surprise, given the moment of history we’re living in, that Coca-Cola decided to dust it off for Super Bowl LI and run it again?
And they weren’t the only ones who ran a political advertisement in the Super Bowl. Airbnb, the community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book accommodations around the world, ran an advertisement that promoted its view of an open, multicultural world, reflecting its commitment to housing refugees. “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.” A hashtag at the end of it read #WeAccept, and it went viral on social media by halftime of the game.
84 Lumber, a Pittsburgh-based national building supply chain, ran an advertisement that was so controversial that Fox wouldn’t air the complete version of it. (It’s available here and worth a look.) It featured a Spanish-speaking mother and daughter making a grueling trek across Mexico in search of a better life. Apparently the depiction of the mother and daughter confronting a border wall between the United States and Mexico was “too controversial.”
Budweiser’s Super Bowl advertisement featured the journey that Adolphus Busch made from Germany to St. Louis in the 1800’s and the discrimination he overcame on his way to success. Unbelievably, the hashtag #BoycottBudweiser trended earlier in the game (the advertisement had been running for days before the game). Later on, however, that same hashtag was being used by others to defend Budweiser and mock the boycotters.
And then there was Audi. Audi’s advertisement advocated equal pay for women. Narrated by a father asking questions about what to tell his young daughter one day as she competed in a go-cart race, he said, “Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?” The young girl won the race, and her father remarked that maybe he will be able to “tell her something different.” The advertisement ends with Audi of America’s statement that it is “committed to equal pay for equal work.”
We are living in an unprecedented moment in history. The Super Bowl is without question the biggest day of the year for advertisers. And in this moment of history, companies did not shy away from calling out President Trump and his politics (even if none specifically used his name), offering up loud rebukes against xenophobia and sexism.
Let me remind everyone that we are a nation born of immigrants. The President’s election, and his recent actions on immigration and other issues, has divided our country. Advertisers paid $5 million for 30 seconds of air time to reach more than 110 million viewers. I think they were very successful. Let’s hope their messages were loud and clear to Washington.
OK, to close the proverbial loop on President Obama’s administrative “fix” of our “broken immigration system”, here’s a few other things that the President announced on November 20, 2014. For more details on all aspects of this Executive Action, please see my two previous blog posts.
Provisional Waivers. This was a biggie, and just about the day after the President’s announcement, I had someone walk into my office who will benefit under this provision (once implemented). The President has decided to expand an earlier program his administration put into place which provides for “provisional waivers” of the 3- and 10-year unlawful presence bars on the admission of aliens who have accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence in the United States. Currently, this program only assists the spouses, sons, or daughters of U.S. citizens. Under the President’s proposed expansion, it will now also benefit qualifying relatives of lawful permanent residents (i.e., Green Card holders).
Miscellaneous. The President also announced several other initiatives, not all of which can be neatly categorized I have done in earlier blogs. First, the President announced some personnel reforms involving immigration and customs officers. He also is trying to promote naturalization for eligible Green Card holders by, for example, directing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) to start accepting credit cards for paying naturalization fees, to consider partial waivers of naturalization fees in its next biennial fee study, and to launch a comprehensive media campaign to promote naturalization. He also is establishing an interagency task force on “New Americans” so as “increase meaningful engagement” between immigrants and the communities where they settle. Finally, the President is also establishing an interagency working group to address the interplay of immigration and employment law. I personally think it will be interesting to see what develops out of this last one.
As I have previously said, it seems clear to me that what President Obama announced was very necessary and very welcome, even if the manner in which it did it was controversial (along obviously with what he did). Last week, the House of Representatives passed a funding bill for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that defunded his initiatives. Although the measure passed, interestingly, 26 Republicans voted against Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s amendment which would have defunded the President’s original 2012 Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) initiative. This bill is now on to the Senate, where I doubt it will pass, but it certainly create a forum for debate that may very well impact the 2016 presidential elections. Let’s see what happens.
So of course the centerpiece of President Obama’s administrative “fix” of our “broken immigration system” are his initiatives to grant “deferred action” to some aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States, and who were brought to the United States as children and raised here. But the President did much more when he announced on November 20, 2014 several other initiatives which affect lawful immigration, and which are supposed to assist our country’s high-skilled businesses and workers. Here’s a brief overview.
1. Immigrant Visa Issuance. The President wants to ensure that all available immigrant visas (basically, “Green Cards”) are used each year, and the President has created a new interagency task force to modernize and streamline the immigrant visa system. Because of delays in processing applications for immigrant visas, some visas going unused each fiscal year. Given the unbelievable backlogs in some of the family- and employment-based immigrant visa categories, this is clearly unacceptable. The President’s action is an attempt to ensure that all immigrant visas available for issuance in a year are used.
2. Optional Practical Training. The President announced that he would expand the duration of any “optional practical training” (commonly known as “OPT”) engaged in by foreign national students who studied science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (commonly known as “STEM” fields) at institutions of higher education in the United States on F-1 nonimmigrant student visas. The President also proposed to expand the degree programs eligible for OPT.
Presently, foreign national students studying in the United States on F-1 nonimmigrant visas may request 12 months of post degree temporary employment, or OPT, in their field of study. In 2008, regulations were promulgated which permitted students in STEM fields to request an additional 17 months of OPT, for a total of 29 months of OPT. However, only students in STEM fields are eligible for this 17 month extension, and these students can participate in OPT for no more than 29 months.
3. Aliens Whose Admission to the United States is in the National Interest. The President proposes to expand the use of the immigrant visa category which allows aliens with advanced degrees or “exceptional ability” to obtain an immigrant visa without a sponsoring employer if their admission to the United States is in the “national interest.”
4. Inventors, Researchers, and Founders of Start-up Enterprises. The President proposes to use the authority granted to the executive branch in the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) to “parole” foreign nationals into the United States when there is a “significant public benefit” to allow some inventors, researchers, and founders of start-up enterprises to enter and lawfully remain in the United States without a visa.
5. L-1B Specialized Knowledge Aliens. For companies who wish to hire foreign nationals as “intra-company transferees” using the L-1B nonimmigrant visa program, the President’s proposal seeks to clarify and standardize the meaning of “specialized knowledge” for purposes of the L-1B visa program. The L-1B nonimmigrant visa allows companies to transfer certain employees who are executives or managers, or have “specialized knowledge” of the company or its processes, to the United States from the company’s foreign operations.
6. I-140 Portability under AC21 §106(c). The President seeks to clarify what is meant by the “same or similar job” for purposes of INA §204(j), which provides that employment-based immigrant visa petitions remain valid when the foreign national employee changes jobs or employers so long as the new job is in the “same or similar occupational classification” as the job for which the original petition was filed.
7. Labor Certification (“PERM”) Modernization. The President seeks to review the Labor Certification program (commonly called “PERM”), whereby the U.S. Department of Labor (“USDOL”) certifies that the issuance of an employment-based immigrant visa will not displace U.S. workers, or adversely affect the wages or working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. More particularly, the President wants to identify methods for aligning domestic worker recruitment requirements under the PERM regulations with demonstrated occupational shortages and surpluses.
8. Human Trafficking and Crime Victims. The President announced that the USDOL will certify (a) applications for T nonimmigrant visas for foreign nationals who have been victims of human trafficking, as well as (b) applications for U nonimmigrant visas for eligible victims of extortion, forced labor, and fraud in foreign labor contracting that the USDOL detects in the course of its workplace investigations.
The President announced other initiatives too (which I will write about at a later time). As you can see from the above, not everything the President announced was controversial (even though some feel how he went about it was). It seems clear to me, however, that what he announced was very necessary and very welcome (by most, anyway).
OK, so let’s break it down. Clearly the centerpiece of President Obama’s administrative “fix” of what he has repeatedly described as a “broken immigration system” are his initiatives to grant “deferred action” (essentially, temporary relief from being removed or deported from the United States) to some aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States, and who were brought to the United States as children and raised here. A second group of aliens unlawfully present in the United States who will benefit under the President’s actions are those who have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (“LPR’s”, or “Green Card” holders).
Deferred Acton for Childhood Arrivals
So what are the specifics? In June 2012, President Obama’s then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced a program, commonly known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”), whereby aliens unlawfully present in the United States who had been brought to the United States as children and who met other criteria could receive “deferred action.” In many cases, these individuals also received employment authorization. Eligibility for DACA, however, expressly excluded aliens unlawfully present who were over the age of 31, or who had entered the United States on or after June 15, 2007.
On November 20, 2014, President Obama modified the DACA program by eliminating the age ceiling and making individuals who began residing in the United States before January 1, 2010 eligible. Moreover, the President announced that DACA grants and accompanying employment authorization will, as of November 24, 2014, last three years instead of two. We’re informed that those eligible under the new criteria should be able to apply within 90 days of the President’s announcement.
Deferred Action for Parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents
Hand-in-hand with the expanded provisions of DACA was the President’s announcement that his administration would also be granting “deferred action” to the parents of U.S. citizens and LPR’s. This initiative is commonly called DAPA. Like those eligible for DACA, some applicants for DAPA will be eligible for employment authorization too.
Specifically, aliens unlawfully present in the United States, and who have children who are either U.S. citizens or LPR’s, will also be eligible for deferred action (and employment authorization) pursuant to the President’s announcement. To be eligible, in general, these aliens must be able to show “continuous residence” in the United States since before January 1, 2010, physical presence in the United States both on the date the initiative was announced (i.e., November 20, 2014) and when they request deferred action, (3) not being an enforcement priority under the administration’s newly announced enforcement priorities, and that they present no other factors that, in the exercise of discretion, would make the grant of deferred action inappropriate.
The Obama Administration estimates that approximately 5 million aliens unlawfully present in the United States could be directly affected by the expanded DACA and new DAPA initiatives. However, the actual number who apply for benefits under either program may be much smaller, depending on outreach, access, cost, and numerous other factors.
So What did President Obama Actually Do?
Immigration reform has arguably become the third rail of politics. Those on the political right will say that the President granted “amnesty” to all these aliens. I suppose whether that’s true depends on what your definition of amnesty is. I personally don’t believe that’s the case. Here’s what I can tell you.
A grant of deferred action is not “legalization” as that term is commonly understood in the world of immigration. Legalization is typically a process whereby aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States acquire legal status, typically as LPR’s. LPR’s can then typically apply for U.S. citizenship after a statutory period of time (and assuming they meet certain conditions). That’s not at all what happened here.
Aliens granted deferred action are generally “lawfully present” in the United States under federal law. That’s it. They may also be eligible for certain benefits, like applying for driver’s license, but by and large, they would not be eligible for public benefits.
Being “lawfully present” in the United States is not the same as being in a “lawful status.” Aliens granted deferred action are not in a lawful status. Thus, a grant of deferred action, in and of itself, does not result in an alien obtaining a Green Card, and as a result, such an individual cannot eventually apply for citizenship. Indeed, aliens granted deferred action could conceivably have their status terminated by Congress in the future.
Of course, I personally hope this will not be the case, but one never knows. The next two years may tell us a lot. Politics is a funny thing.
So, the President finally did it. On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced a series of actions (not executive orders as it turns out) that his administration is taking to “fix” what he has repeatedly described as a “broken immigration system.” These actions involve, among other areas, border security, providing a temporary status (commonly called “deferred action”) for some aliens who are currently unlawfully present in the United States, and future legal immigration. So what did the President actually do? I’m glad you asked.
Border Security. Likely to placate those on the right, and certainly consistent with this Administration’s record level of deportations, the President announced he is implementing a “Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Strategy” which the Administration argues will “fundamentally alter” the way in which it marshals resources to the border. We’re informed that this will involve the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) commissioning of three (3) task forces, consisting of various law enforcement agencies, which will focus on the southern maritime border, the southern land border and West Coast, and investigations to support the other two task forces. The primary objectives of this new strategy is increasing the risk of engaging in or facilitating illegal transnational or cross-border activity, interdicting people who attempt to enter illegally between ports of entry, and preventing the illegal exploitation of legal flows (e.g., alien smuggling at ports of entry).
Aliens Unlawfully Present in the United States. The centerpiece of President Obama’s announcement, and no doubt the most controversial, is to grant deferred action (basically temporary relief from removal) to some aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States (i.e., those who were brought to the United States as children and raised here, or those who have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (“LPR’s”)).
In addition, President Obama expanded a program his administration announced in June 2012, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”). That program allowed aliens who were unlawfully present in the United States, and who had been brought to the United States as children and met other criteria, to also receive deferred action and, in many cases, employment authorization. DACA, as originally proposed, expressly excluded aliens who were unlawfully present aliens and who were over 31 years old, or who had entered the United States on or after June 15, 2007. Under President Obama’s recent action, aliens who are over 31 years old, or entered the United States between June 15, 2007, and January 1, 2010, could receive deferred action. The President’s recent initiative would also extend the duration of grants of deferred action (and work authorization) received by DACA beneficiaries from the current two years, to three years.
As noted above, aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States who have children who are U.S. citizens or LPR’s will also be eligible for deferred action (and employment authorization) provided they can show (1) “continuous residence” in the United States since before January 1, 2010, (2) physical presence in the United States both on the date the initiative was announced (i.e., November 20, 2014) and when they apply for deferred action, (3) not being an enforcement priority under the administration’s newly announced priorities, and (4) they present no other factors that, in the exercise of discretion, makes the grant of deferred action inappropriate. Individuals who are granted deferred action pursuant to the President’s initiatives, or otherwise, are eligible for employment authorization provided they can show “an economic necessity for employment.”
There were other provisions which addressed aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States too, but these are the big ones.
Legal Immigration. The President also announced certain initiatives intended to affect aliens who are lawfully present in the United States, and which was described by the President as supporting high-skilled business and workers. One such provision is to ensure that all immigrant visas (basically “Green Cards”) which are authorized by Congress in a given fiscal year are actually issued.
Yet another initiative that the President announced is expanding the duration of “optional practical training” (“OPT”) available to F-1 nonimmigrant students in the United States studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (“STEM”) fields at institutions of higher education in the United States, as well as expanding the actual degree programs that are eligible for OPT.
Again, there were other provisions which the President announced in this category.
I realize the President’s actions are very controversial, and a lot of people are unhappy with them. As I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, our immigration system is broken and it desperately needs to be fixed. In a perfect world, Congress would pass meaningful, comprehensive and bipartisan legislation, and send it to the President for his signature. That has not happened for way too long. So I suppose this is the next best thing.
I’ve taken some time to digest the 2014 midterm election results, and specifically in terms of what they mean for the prospect of comprehensive immigration reform. At first blush, it doesn’t look great. At second blush too.
Last week, however, the New York Times published (in my opinion) an excellent editorial, making the case why President Obama should go it alone and use his executive authority to give temporary protection to potentially millions of aliens unlawfully present in the United States. I am well aware that this is a hotbed issue, and people have legitimately strong arguments on both sides of it. I think the President should go for it, and it looks like he’s about to, perhaps as early as this week (and we’re informed not later than the end of the year).
To be honest, I have mixed emotions about President Obama. But the reality is, the New York Times is absolutely correct in saying that “[s]ix fruitless years is time enough for anyone to realize that waiting for Congress to help fix immigration is delusional.” It’s actually been longer than six years. President George W. Bush tried for comprehensive immigration reform during his presidency, and that fell apart. Others before him have tried and failed as well.
I’ve made this point before, but it really is worth repeating. Our immigration system is broken. Is it really practical to think that we’re going to deport 11 to 13 million aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States? No. Does it make sense that we educate foreign nationals at some of our best institutions of higher education, and then tell them that they can’t stay here because there’s no visa, either temporary or permanent, that allows them to? No. Our immigration system is broken, and our national leaders, with the input of relevant stakeholders, should discuss, debate and implement comprehensive immigration reform.
Unfortunately, a legislative fix does not appear in the offing. Thus, we’re now hearing (and reading) that President Obama may use his executive power to prevent the removal (commonly known as deportation) of anywhere between 3 and 5 million aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States. The specifics are apparently still being worked out, but I’m hearing that those who are the parents of U.S. citizen children, or the spouses of U.S. citizens, will be allowed to remain in the United States, and even obtain permission to work, indefinitely.
Just so I am clear. These individuals will not be afforded lawful permanent residence (i.e., a Green Card), nor will they be put on a path to citizenship. Only Congress has the ability to make those types of changes (with, of course, the signature of the President).
This is not a perfect solution. These individuals would (potentially) only be receiving a temporary reprieve from deportation. Congress could change the law, or a future president could cancel President Obama’s program. If that were to occur, those who participated in the program would be out in the open and thus exposed to removal. Nevertheless, I think it’s a step in the right direction, and worth the risk for those aliens who would participate in it.
As the New York Times stated in its editorial, “[t]here will surely be intense debate when [President] Obama draws the lines that decide who might qualify for protection. Some simple questions should be his guide: Do the people he could help have strong bonds to the United States? Does deporting them serve the national interest? If it doesn’t, they should have a chance to stay.” I agree.