published August 19, 2011
Illegal immigrants facing deportation are hopeful about a new policy by the Obama Administration that could suspend their removal from the country. But their attorneys caution that the policy is not amnesty, and while it will allow some to work legally in the U.S., it will also leave them in a state of limbo — without legal status.
By Seattle Times staff
A day after the Obama administration announced a new policy that could suspend the deportation of thousands of illegal immigrants who pose no threat to public safety, local immigration attorneys were fielding calls from anxious clients.
One man wanted to know if the new policy meant his deported wife might be allowed back into the United States.
Other illegal immigrants, not even facing deportation, asked if they would now be granted legal status.
“It’s not a new law,” Seattle attorney Henry Cruz has been telling those who call. “It’s not amnesty.”
Cruz further explains the new policy is limited to people who are already here in the country, who have been apprehended and are in removal proceedings.
“And even then, we still don’t know exactly how they are going to implement this,” he says.
Under the new policy, the Department of Homeland Security will review one by one some 300,000 cases of people currently in the pipeline for deportation — including almost 5,000 cases pending before the Seattle immigration court.
Attorneys for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would use “prosecutorial discretion” in deciding whether to halt the deportation of those with no path to legal status who pose no threat to national security or public safety.
Those could include people legally married to same-sex American partners; pregnant women; victims of domestic abuse and other serious crimes; spouses of active-duty military personnel; and students brought here as children who graduated from high school and went on to college.
In addition to having their deportation suspended, they likely would qualify for Social Security numbers and be granted permits to legally work.
While applauding the Obama administration, immigration attorneys were quick to warn that prosecutorial discretion means just that — and not every case that appears to qualify will.
Further, they say, the new policy will leave illegal immigrants in limbo — still without legal status and subject to a future administration open to undoing what President Obama has done.
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, calls the policy “amnesty by executive fiat” and said the Obama administration is “stretching the idea of prosecutorial discretion beyond any reasonable bounds.”
Mehlman said Obama is trampling on the legislative authority of Congress — having waited until its members were on summer recess to do so.
“I am sure every president since Washington has been frustrated by legislative inaction,” Mehlman said. “But that didn’t give them the right to usurp the authority of Congress.”
Obama ran for president pledging to fix the nation’s immigration problems. His administration has come under immense pressure from immigrant advocates and an expanding Latino population for his and Congress’ failure to do so.
Local immigrant supporters say the current system separates families, and note the administration long has had a policy of focusing deportations on violent offenders.
Many attorneys, like Seattle’s Shannon Underwood, say they welcome the new policy but plan to take a wait-and-see approach.
They expect to meet soon with government attorneys and justice officials to discuss how the new policy will shake out.