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“We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.” These were essentially the very first words uttered by now President Trump in his inaugural address.
When I first went back to re-read the President’s speech, I didn’t think much of this particular statement. Upon reflection, though, given the President’s rhetoric on the campaign trail, and even since he was elected, I find it a bit ironic that he in the same sentence speaks how “the citizens of America” would restore our country’s promise “for all of our people.”
“All of our people.” Presumably this means everyone that’s here, right? Citizens and non-citizens alike? Or does “our people” have a more limited meaning? Just citizens? What about permanent residents (i.e., Green Card holders)? What about people lawfully here on temporary visas? Am I reading too much into the President’s statement?
I just received an email from a colleague who, in a very different context, said “Language is important. Actions are important.” He was right in the context he used it. On Day 1 of a Trump presidency, language is very important. For every other day, actions will be very important.
“Every decision on … on immigration … will be made to benefit American workers and American families.” Really? What about everyone else who are lawfully living in the United States?
I have clients and colleagues calling me daily about what a Trump presidency means on the immigration front. And not just what I describe as at risk, or undocumented folks. Professionals too. I’ve tried to answer that question so many times, but the truth is, I really don’t know. Frankly, no one knows beyond those that are closest to the President. I suspect we’re about to find out.
Anecdotally, the news has not been good, and by all accounts, the Executive actions that former President Obama took (e.g., DACA, etc.) are no doubt in jeopardy.
President Trump quoted the Bible in his inaugural speech; specifically, “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” I agree. “All of our people” should be able to remain here and live here in unity. Now let’s get to work on a compassionate way to make that happen. (And for God’s sake, let’s tackle some meaningful immigration reform in the process.)
On Monday, April 18, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Texas v. United States, 15-674, which is the action by the State of Texas (along with 25 other states) to block the Obama Administration’s implementation of expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (“DAPA”).
I noted in an earlier piece that in addition to the questions presented by the Obama Administration’s petition, the Court also directed the parties to brief and argue the plaintiff-states’ Take Care Clause claim. Another big issue that the Court would need to address, indeed a threshold issue, is whether the State of Texas had “standing” to bring the action in the first place.
Prior to oral argument, most commentators (whether legal or otherwise) thought that Chief Justice Roberts might avoid dealing with the main issues in the case, and instead focus on the threshold issue of standing, the question being whether the states challenging the Obama Administration’s plan to implement DAPA and expanded DACA suffered the sort of direct and concrete injury that gives them standing to sue. Historically, Chief Justice Roberts has not been a proponent of resolving political disputes in the courts, which this one obviously is.
Texas (and the other states) argued that they have standing because they might incur additional costs when issuing drivers’ licenses to beneficiaries of the DACA and DAPA initiatives. In reality however, these claims are nothing more than allegations of indirect or incidental effects, and interestingly, since the State of Texas subsidizes driver’s licenses, any alleged harm is really of its own creation.
In my view, the issue of standing became much more important with the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, 2016. If Chief Justice Roberts was really focused on the threshold issue of standing, he might then try to decide the case on more narrow procedural grounds, and avoid what could end up being a deadlock of 4 – 4 among the remaining voting justices (and thereby allowing the district court’s injunction prohibiting the implementation of the Obama Administration’s November 2014 immigration program to stand).
And then came April 18. Within minutes of the opening of oral arguments, Chief Justice Roberts seemed troubled, if not unpersuaded, by the Obama Administration’s argument on standing. Essentially, Chief Justice Roberts stated that if Texas did deny licenses to DACA and DAPA beneficiaries, those individuals would then likely sue the state, perhaps on Equal Protection grounds. Chief Justice Roberts opined that this would put Texas in “a real Catch-22” (i.e., the state can remedy the legal harm by refusing to give licenses to some immigrants, but in doing so, it would open itself up to a lawsuit). Not a good start at all.
The Court then went into the real issues, and not surprisingly, the justices were pretty much split down ideological grounds. So, what could happen?
First, I suppose the Court could still dismiss the action for a lack of standing. If this happens, the entire case will come to an end. The Obama Administration could then implement DAPA and expanded DACA. Unfortunately, I don’t see this as likely (but I can still dream).
Second, the Court could reverse the Fifth Circuit on any number of legal issues, thereby allowing the Obama Administration’s initiatives to move forward. If it did so, however, this would likely not be the end of the lawsuit. That’s because the district court could then go on to decide if the Obama Administration’s initiatives are constitutional. And, then the decision of the district court could be appealed, basically meaning the entire case could go back to the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court … again.
Finally, the Court could affirm the Fifth Circuit, which would uphold the district court’s preliminary injunction. This means the case would also go back to the district court for the case to simply continue on. As with the second scenario, any resulting district court decision could later be appealed, meaning the case could again go back to the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court.
I have noted this before. President Obama’s administrative action was but the latest among many of his predecessors in the Oval Office who relied on their executive authority to deal with important immigration issues during their administrations. According to the American Immigration Council, since 1956, there have been at least thirty nine (39) instances where a president has exercised his executive authority to protect thousand and sometimes millions of immigrants, in the United States at the time without status, usually in the humanitarian interest of simply keeping families together. Today, however, the climate is very different, and what essentially should be a legislative issue being resolved in Congress is now a political issue being resolved in the federal courts.
Now it’s a waiting game until the end of the Court’s term in June. It seems to me, based upon Chief Justice Roberts’ questions, that the odds of a favorable decision from the Court at this juncture are not very high.
 The questions presented by the Obama Administration were (a) whether a State that voluntarily provides a subsidy to all aliens with deferred action has Article III standing and a justiciable cause of action under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 500 et seq., to challenge the Guidance because it will lead to more aliens having deferred action, (b) whether the Guidance is arbitrary and capricious or otherwise not in accordance with law, and (c) whether the Guidance was subject to the APA’s notice-and-comment procedures. The “Guidance” refers to the Secretary of Homeland Security’s memorandum dated November 20, 2014 directing his subordinates to establish a process for considering deferred action for certain aliens who have lived in the United States for five years and either came here as children or already have children who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
 The question presented here was “[w]hether the Guidance violates the Take Care Clause of the Constitution, Art. II, §3.”
 Clearly nobody who follows the Supreme Court was counting on Justice Scalia to vote in favor of the Obama Administration’s position in this case in any event.
Do you remember the game “Sorry!”? I play it with my 7 year old sometimes. And every once in a while when I pick a card that sends one of his game pieces back to his Start circle, he slaps his forehead and yells, “Are you kidding me?”
The other day, I had the same reaction (albeit to something a lot different). You may have read about this. Jack H. Weil, an assistant chief immigration judge who is actually responsible for training other judges, stated in sworn testimony in a case in which the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) and other immigrant rights groups are seeking to require the government to provide appointed counsel for indigent children who cannot afford a lawyer in immigration court proceedings, stated:
I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done. … You can do a fair hearing. It’s going to take you a lot of time.
Are you kidding me?
Not surprisingly, afterwards, Judge Weil was quoted as saying that his statements did not “present an accurate assessment of [his] views on this topic,” and the Justice Department then quickly chimed in that “[a]t no time has the Department indicated that 3 and 4 year olds are capable of representing themselves. Jack Weil was speaking in a personal capacity and his statements, therefore, do not necessarily represent the views of [the Executive Office for Immigration Review] or the Department of Justice.”
I have repeatedly said in various forums that our immigration laws are extraordinarily complex. If you’re not an attorney, or if you’re an attorney but don’t practice in the area of immigration, you might be surprised to see the back-and-forth that immigration practitioners themselves engage in on various professional listservs about the meaning of a statute, rule or agency memorandum. If we sometimes cannot understand or come to agreement as to what the Congress has written, or a Court has decided, do we really expect a 3 or 4 year old to?
Our government does not guarantee legal counsel to asylum seekers and other vulnerable populations facing deportation from the United States. In the past two years, more than 112,000 families and unaccompanied children have appeared before Immigration Judges without lawyers. It’s virtually impossible for non-English speaking asylum seekers, especially young (or frankly any) children, to understand or navigate our complex immigration system, let alone make sense of legal terms of art such as “persecution” or being a member of a “particular social group.”
In an attempt to rectify this sorry state of affairs, in February, 2016, Senator Minority Harry Reid introduced S. 2540, the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016, which mandates that unaccompanied children and vulnerable immigrants receive legal representation. Two weeks later, Representatives Zoe Lofgren, Luis Gutierrez, and Lucille Roybal-Allard introduced the House companion bill, H.R. 4646.
Among other things, the law would require the appointment of counsel for children, families and other vulnerable individuals, and the government would also be required to ensure access to counsel for anyone in detention, including border detention facilities, as well as for families and individuals subject to fast-track asylum screenings conducted in border regions.
Just recently, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont questioned Attorney General Loretta Lynch why the Department of Justice does not prohibit immigration proceedings from moving forward until children have representation. Attorney General Lynch responded: “I think we’re looking to find any various ways to support that and we’re looking at various ways to get legal counsel appointed in every situation,” responded Lynch. This is a rather ironic response given that the Department of Justice, the very agency which Attorney General Lynch leads, continues to fight the ACLU’s lawsuit that seeks to require that all such children receive legal representation.
I’ve been in the courtroom for these types of hearings. Children are facing the same charges as adults, and consequently are also being asked the same questions by the Immigration Judge as adults. I can tell you with absolute certainty that most adults, even with court-provided interpreters, do not understand what they’re being asked by the Immigration Judge. The charges range from entering the country illegally to overstaying a visa. The Immigration Judges ask questions that include when and how they arrived in the United States and whether they fear persecution in their home country if they were to return. You would think these are simple questions, right? Far from it.
The Immigration Judge would also be asking if the child wants to leave the country voluntarily or whether the child would rather be deported. Depending on the child’s answer, he or she may be foreclosed from applying for certain forms of immigration relief in the United States, such as political asylum.
And, these hearing typically happen very quickly. Indeed in some courtrooms, the average time for a Master Calendar Hearing has been reported to be about 7 minutes. Imagine trying to make sure a child facing deportation from the United States understands all of his or her rights within 7 minutes (especially if the child is not represented by an attorney).
On the election trail recently, Univision hosts at a CNN debate pressed both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to make definitive statements that neither would deport children (or immigrants with no criminal record) should they become president. The both did so. That’s a start, at least as far as the Democrats are concerned. But we still need to worry about the Republicans, and of course the real issue of the right to an attorney for an indigent child still needs to be resolved.
Just recently Time Magazine named German Chancellor Angela Merkel as its “Person of the Year”. Among other things, Time noted her role in Europe’s migration crises. Time wrote that Chancellor Merkel had provided “steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply.”
Do you know who came in third place? Donald Trump (just behind Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State militant group, commonly known as ISIS).
So let’s see if I have this straight. Time said that Chancellor Merkel was deserving of the award because, among other reasons, by the end of 2015, “she had steered the [European Union] through not one but two existential crises” with the second being a “thunderclap. In late summer, Merkel’s government threw open Germany’s doors to a pressing throng of refugees and migrants; a total of 1 million asylum seekers are expected in the country by the end of December.”
Susan Rice, President Obama’s National Security Advisor, was quoted in Time that “[Chancellor Merkel] has demonstrated particularly bold moral and practical leadership on the refugee crisis, welcoming vulnerable migrants despite the political costs[.]” I could not agree more.
And what of Candidate Trump? Well, Candidate Trump has engaged in fear mongering, including proposing a plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States; that’s right, Candidate Trump says we need a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Constitutional? I doubt it.
Nevertheless, the tragic events in Paris and, more recently, in San Bernardino, California, have ramped up Congressional efforts to, among other things, halt the U.S. refugee resettlement program (which yes, includes Muslims trying to come to the United States because they’re fleeing persecution in their own countries).
Quite frankly, there is no need for Congress to end the refugee program for Syrians and Iraqis or to even impose additional security measures. The U.S. refugee program already subjects every individual who will enters the U.S. pursuant to it to extremely rigorous checks performed by multiple federal agencies. Indeed, after decades of operation, not a single refugee has committed a reported act of terrorism in the U.S.
Fortunately, most legal scholars believe that Candidate Trump’s plan would be unconstitutional. In fact, his plan was even rejected by politicians from both sides of the political aisle, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Paul Ryan. In a press conference, Speaker Ryan denounced Candidate Trump’s comments by stating that they don’t reflect who we are as a nation (or even the Republican Party for that matter).
The campaign trail rhetoric continues to be atrocious (as is some, but thankfully not all, of the rhetoric in Washington, D.C.). I can only hope that reasoned and informed opinions prevail.
Some time has now passed since President Obama announced on November 20, 2014 his intention to go it alone to “fix” of our “broken immigration system.” Since that announcement, lawyers such as myself were hopeful that we could start working with clients on their applications for expanded relief under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”), and later this Spring under the President’s new “deferred action” program for the parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (“LPR’s), commonly known as “DAPA”.
That all came to a screeching halt on February 16, 2015, when Texas federal district Judge Andrew S. Hanen granted a temporary injunction against the implementation of President Obama’s executive action regarding the DAPA program and the expansion of the President’s June 2012 DACA initiative. The injunction temporarily blocks President Obama’s executive action aimed at providing administrative relief from removal to millions of immigrants. President Obama has vowed to appeal. This, of course, begs the question of whether the President’s actions were lawful. I think they were.
A (Very) Brief History of Previous Exercises of Discretionary Relief
President Obama’s administrative action was but the latest among many of his predecessors in the Oval Office who relied on their executive authority to deal with important immigration issues during their administrations. According to the American Immigration Council, since 1956, there have been at least thirty nine (39) instances where a president has exercised his executive authority to protect thousand and sometimes millions of immigrants, in the United States at the time without status, usually in the humanitarian interest of simply keeping families together. So why all the fuss now?
Prosecutorial Discretion, the Immigration Law and Regulations, and the Supreme Court
DACA was established by executive action in June 2012, and was expanded by the President’s announcement in November 2014. DAPA was first announced by the President in November 2014. Prosecutorial discretion generally refers to the authority of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) to decide how the immigration laws should be applied, and it is a legal practice that has existed in law enforcement for quite some time.
For example, the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) and its implementing regulations are replete with examples where DHS will either refrain from an enforcement action, like electing not to serve and thereafter file a charging document (commonly known as a Notice to Appear) with the Immigration Court, as well as well as decisions to provide a discretionary remedies when an immigrant is already in removal proceedings, such as granting stays of removal, granting parole, or granting deferred action.
The INA itself authorizes the President’s legal authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion, including by prohibiting judicial review of three (3) types of actions involving the exercise of prosecutorial discretion (i.e., the decisions to commence removal proceedings, to adjudicate cases, and to execute removal orders).
Congress has also legislated deferred action in the INA itself as a means by which the executive branch may use, in the exercise of its prosecutorial discretion, to protect certain victims of crime, abuse, or human trafficking.
Notably, the INA also has a specific provision which recognizes the President’s authority to authorize employment for non-citizens who do not otherwise receive it automatically by virtue of their particular immigration status. See INA § 274A(h)(3). It is this provision, in conjunction with other regulations, that currently confers eligibility for work authorization under DACA (and would do so again under expanded DACA and DAPA).
Beyond this, memoranda issued by federal agencies authorized to implement and enforce our nation’s immigration laws recognize prosecutorial discretion too, including a seminal one issued by legacy-Immigration and Naturalization Service “INS”) Commissioner Doris Meissner in 1990 to her senior agency staff. There are earlier memoranda as well opining as to the legality of prosecutorial discretion too.
Finally, the Supreme Court held in Arizona v. United States that a “[a] principal feature of the [deportation] system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials. . . . Federal officials, as an initial matter, must decide whether it makes sense to pursue [deportation] at all . . . .” Arizona v. United States, 132 S. Ct. 2492, 2499 (2012).
As a result of all of the above (i.e., the INA and its implementing regulations, Supreme Court decisions, and agency memoranda), there have been at least thirty nine (39) instances since 1956 where a president has exercised his executive authority to protect aliens, generally in the interest of simply keeping families together.
So What Happens Now?
Our history is replete with examples of U.S. presidents, in the name of prosecutorial discretion, issuing directives that provided for deferred action (or whatever they may have called it at the time) to non-citizens of the United States, and indeed Judge Hanen, in his written decision, affirmed the executive branch’s right to exercise prosecutorial discretion.
Previous lawsuits against similar executive actions have failed in the past. Indeed a similarly politically motivated lawsuit was thrown out in December 2014 when Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio argued that President Obama’s announcements were unconstitutional. In 2012, the State of Mississippi challenged the legality of DACA in a case similar to the current Texas lawsuit, and that case was dismissed because the judge found the perceived economic hardship the state claimed was purely speculative.
As I have previously argued and substantiated in this blog, studies have shown that deferred action initiatives, apart from being the right thing to do, are economically beneficial to our country. In his decision, Judge Hanen cites the government’s “failure to secure the borders” and then goes on to support the plaintiffs’ position of supposed costs to the states without any evidence whatsoever in the record. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (“AILA”) and others have argued that Judge Hanen disregarded information submitted by the government and AILA as to the widespread economic and social benefits that the expanded DACA and DAPA programs would provide. They’re right.
Again, the Obama Administration has indicated it will appeal, and at the same time seek a stay to the enforcement of Judge Hanen’s order. I am cautiously optimistic that the government will prevail. In the meantime, it’s noteworthy to point out that those who have previously been granted DACA are not at all affected by Judge Hanen’s ruling. This ruling only delays the start of DAPA and the expansion of DACA.
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).