USCIS Memo Fans Immigration Debate

July 30, 2010

Republicans continue to attack the Obama Administration concerning the failed immigration system despite the fact that they failed to fix the broken system during the eight years of the Bush Administration.  They also continue to play partisan games to block any efforts to introduce comprehensive immigration reform.

The Obama Administration has made it clear that the current system cannot continue, that families should not be divided and compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform is a priority of his administration.

So is it surprising that an administration memo written by USCIS outlines some alternatives the administration could implement if comprehensive immigration reform is not pushed through? Not to me.  Not to people who have been pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.  Apparently, it is to the Republicans. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) claims that the leaked memo is proof of a "backdoor amnesty plan."

The 11-page memo stated the purpose:
This memorandum offers administrative relief options to promote family unity, foster economic growth, achieve significant process improvements and reduce the threat of removal for certain individuals present in the United Slates without authorization. It includes recommendations regarding implementation timeframes and required resources.
The USCIS said, "internal draft memos, deliberation and an exchange of ideas should not be mistaken for official department policy."

The memo continues:
In the absence of Comprehensive immigration Reform, USCIS can extend benefits and/or protections to many individuals and groups by issuing new guidance and regulations, exercising discretion with regard to parole-in-place. deferred action and the issuance of Notices to Appear (NTA), and adopting significant process improvements. To promote family unity, USCIS could reinterpret two 1990 General Counsel Opinions regarding the ability of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) applicants who entered the United States (U. S.) without inspection to adjust or change status. This would enable thousands of individuals in TPS status to become lawful permanent residents. Similarly, where non·TPS applicants have been deemed inadmissible under section 212(a)(6)(A)(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act ("the Act") for having entered without inspection, USCIS could grant "parole-in-place" (PIP) in the exercise of discretion to create a basis for adjustment in the U.S.
Parole in place is being implemented now in the CNMI. The memo also discusses advance parole-in-place for travel, which is also being utilized in the CNMI.

Deferred action could be recommended for applicant's with family and/or employment circumstances. The memo also stated:
Finally, for applicants who have requested relief from USCIS, whether in-country or abroad. and whose applications require a waiver of inadmissibility, USCIS could issue guidance or a lessening the "extreme hardship" standard. This would encourage many more spouses, sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to seek relief without fear of removal. It would also increase the likelihood that such relief would be granted.
Clearly, the drafters of the memo were looking at the question of immigration reform through moral and ethical eyes. They also considered:
Publish final regulations related to relief for unaccompanied minors, and for victims of human trafficking, domestic violence. and other criminal activities.

These rules would help regularize the immigration status of minors in foster care or in the
process of being adopted. They would further clarify the derivative family members for whom a victim or human trafficking can petition, implement provisions allowing such individuals to enter the U.S. based on the danger of retaliation, and establish procedures for victims or elder abuse to seek relief.
The memo further discussed expanding economic growth by working with the department of Commerce to administer the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, expanding grace periods to depart the U.S., H2-B Cap Allocation Options, and The Dream Act.

While Republicans claim that the memo is an "amnesty plan," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated once again that the administration doesn't support amnesty for illegals. The memo itself stated that deferred action would be "controversial, not to mention expensive.   From the memo:
Rather than making deferred action widely available to hundreds of thousands and as a non-legislative version of "amnesty", U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services could tailor the use of this discretionary option for particular groups such as individuals who would be eligible for relief under the DREAM Act.
What did President Obama say about illegal aliens, amnesty and comprehensive immigration reform? He said this:
Our task then is to make our national laws actually work -– to shape a system that reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. And that means being honest about the problem, and getting past the false debates that divide the country rather than bring it together.

For example, there are those in the immigrants’ rights community who have argued passionately that we should simply provide those who are [here] illegally with legal status, or at least ignore the laws on the books and put an end to deportation until we have better laws. And often this argument is framed in moral terms: Why should we punish people who are just trying to earn a living?

I recognize the sense of compassion that drives this argument, but I believe such an indiscriminate approach would be both unwise and unfair. It would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no repercussions for such a decision. And this could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration. And it would also ignore the millions of people around the world who are waiting in line to come here legally.

Ultimately, our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship. And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable.

Now, if the majority of Americans are skeptical of a blanket amnesty, they are also skeptical that it is possible to round up and deport 11 million people. They know it’s not possible. Such an effort would be logistically impossible and wildly expensive. Moreover, it would tear at the very fabric of this nation -– because immigrants who are here illegally are now intricately woven into that fabric. Many have children who are American citizens. Some are children themselves, brought here by their parents at a very young age, growing up as American kids, only to discover their illegal status when they apply for college or a job. Migrant workers -– mostly here illegally -– have been the labor force of our farmers and agricultural producers for generations. So even if it was possible, a program of mass deportations would disrupt our economy and communities in ways that most Americans would find intolerable.

Now, once we get past the two poles of this debate, it becomes possible to shape a practical, common-sense approach that reflects our heritage and our values. Such an approach demands accountability from everybody -– from government, from businesses and from individuals.

Government has a threshold responsibility to secure our borders. That’s why I directed my Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano -- a former border governor -- to improve our enforcement policy without having to wait for a new law.

Today, we have more boots on the ground near the Southwest border than at any time in our history. Let me repeat that: We have more boots on the ground on the Southwest border than at any time in our history. We doubled the personnel assigned to Border Enforcement Security Task Forces. We tripled the number of intelligence analysts along the border. For the first time, we’ve begun screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments. And as a result, we’re seizing more illegal guns, cash and drugs than in years past. Contrary to some of the reports that you see, crime along the border is down. And statistics collected by Customs and Border Protection reflect a significant reduction in the number of people trying to cross the border illegally.

So the bottom line is this: The southern border is more secure today than at any time in the past 20 years. That doesn’t mean we don’t have more work to do. We have to do that work, but it’s important that we acknowledge the facts. Even as we are committed to doing what’s necessary to secure our borders, even without passage of the new law, there are those who argue that we should not move forward with any other elements of reform until we have fully sealed our borders.But our borders are just too vast for us to be able to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols. It won’t work. Our borders will not be secure as long as our limited resources are devoted to not only stopping gangs and potential terrorists, but also the hundreds of thousands who attempt to cross each year simply to find work.

That’s why businesses must be held accountable if they break the law by deliberately hiring and exploiting undocumented workers. We’ve already begun to step up enforcement against the worst workplace offenders. And we’re implementing and improving a system to give employers a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally. But we need to do more. We cannot continue just to look the other way as a significant portion of our economy operates outside the law. It breeds abuse and bad practices. It punishes employers who act responsibly and undercuts American workers. And ultimately, if the demand for undocumented workers falls, the incentive for people to come here illegally will decline as well.

Finally, we have to demand responsibility from people living here illegally. They must be required to admit that they broke the law. They should be required to register, pay their taxes, pay a fine, and learn English. They must get right with the law before they can get in line and earn their citizenship -- not just because it is fair, not just because it will make clear to those who might wish to come to America they must do so inside the bounds of the law, but because this is how we demonstrate that being -- what being an American means. Being a citizen of this country comes not only with rights but also with certain fundamental responsibilities. We can create a pathway for legal status that is fair, reflective of our values, and works.

Now, stopping illegal immigration must go hand in hand with reforming our creaky system of legal immigration. We’ve begun to do that, by eliminating a backlog in background checks that at one point stretched back almost a year. That’s just for the background check. People can now track the status of their immigration applications by email or text message. We’ve improved accountability and safety in the detention system. And we’ve stemmed the increases in naturalization fees. But here, too, we need to do more. We should make it easier for the best and the brightest to come to start businesses and develop products and create jobs.

Our laws should respect families following the rules -– instead of splitting them apart. We need to provide farms a legal way to hire the workers they rely on, and a path for those workers to earn legal status.

And we should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents by denying them the chance to stay here and earn an education and contribute their talents to build the country where they’ve grown up. The DREAM Act would do this, and that’s why I supported this bill as a state legislator and as a U.S. senator -- and why I continue to support it as president.

So these are the essential elements of comprehensive immigration reform. The question now is whether we will have the courage and the political will to pass a bill through Congress, to finally get it done. Last summer, I held a meeting with leaders of both parties, including many of the Republicans who had supported reform in the past -- and some who hadn’t. I was pleased to see a bipartisan framework proposed in the Senate by Senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer, with whom I met to discuss this issue. I’ve spoken with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to plot the way forward and meet -- and then I met with them earlier this week.

And I’ve spoken with representatives from a growing coalition of labor unions and business groups, immigrant advocates and community organizations, law enforcement, local government -– all who recognize the importance of immigration reform. And I’ve met with leaders from America’s religious communities, like Pastor Hybels -- people of different faiths and beliefs, some liberal, some conservative, who nonetheless share a sense of urgency; who understand that fixing our broken immigration system is not only a political issue, not just an economic issue, but a moral imperative as well.

So we’ve made progress. I’m ready to move forward; the majority of Democrats are ready to move forward; and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move forward. But the fact is, without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem. Reform that brings accountability to our immigration system cannot pass without Republican votes. That is the political and mathematical reality. The only way to reduce the risk that this effort will again falter because of politics is if members of both parties are willing to take responsibility for solving this problem once and for all.

And, yes, this is an emotional question, and one that lends itself to demagoguery. Time and again, this issue has been used to divide and inflame -– and to demonize people. And so the understandable, the natural impulse among those who run for office is to turn away and defer this question for another day, or another year, or another administration. Despite the courageous leadership in the past shown by many Democrats and some Republicans -- including, by the way, my predecessor, President Bush -– this has been the custom. That is why a broken and dangerous system that offends our most basic American values is still in place.

But I believe we can put politics aside and finally have an immigration system that’s accountable. I believe we can appeal not to people’s fears but to their hopes, to their highest ideals, because that’s who we are as Americans. It’s been inscribed on our nation’s seal since we declared our independence. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one. That is what has drawn the persecuted and impoverished to our shores. That’s what led the innovators and risk-takers from around the world to take a chance here in the land of opportunity. That’s what has led people to endure untold hardships to reach this place called America.
Clearly, status for legal long-term foreign workers will be embraced by the Obama Administration.

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