President Barack Obama unveiled executive actions he plans to take to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation in a primetime speech from the White House on Thursday evening. In his remarks, Obama characterised his plan as having three main parts; improving border security, promoting opportunities for “high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs” and and taking stepts to deal “responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.”
Prior to Obama’s speech the White House distributed a fact sheet with a more detailed list of the various parts of his plan. It included a slew of changes to existing programs and new initiatives, but there were six main components:
- Protecting Parents of Naturalized Children: One of the groups who will be protected from deportation under Obama’s executive actions are parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents who have been in the country for more than five years. The deferred action program for these undocumented immigrants is being established by the Department of Homeland Security. According to the White House it will allow them to have “temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for three years at a time if they come forward and register, submit biometric data, pass background checks, pay fees, and show that their child was born before the date of this announcement.”
- Allowing More DREAMers: Another group that will be shielded from deportation through the president’s executive actions are undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children, who have become known as DREAMers. Under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a 2012 DHS memorandum, qualifying immigrants born after 1981 who arrived prior to 2007 could have their deportation postponed for up to two years. Now, Obama is having DHS expand DACA “so that individuals who were brought to this country as children can apply if they entered before January 1, 2010, regardless of how old they are today.” DACA relief will also now be granted for three years rather than two.
- Skilled Workers And Entrepreneurs: The final group of immigrants who are the focus of the president’s plan are “highly-skilled workers” who are awaiting legal permanent resident status and their spouses. According to the White House, DHS will be making “regulatory changes to allow these workers to move or change jobs more easily.” DHS is also finalising new rules that will give employment authorization to the spouses of workers in specialty occupations who are here on H-1B visas and have approved applications for permanent residency. Additionally, DHS will be expanding “immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria for creating jobs, attracting investment, and generating revenue.” These criteria will include minimum income thresholds. DHS is also going to propose changes to the Optional Practical Training program, which allows foreign students to work while pursuing their education in the US. The White House said these changes will be aimed at strengthening the “educational experiences of foreign students studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at U.S. universities.” Obama’s executive orders also include several measures designed to reduce “family separation” for immigrants awaiting permanent residency. DHS will issue guidance designed to make it easier for these immigrants to return to their home countries for visits.
- Long Term Plans: Obama is issuing a presidential memorandum on visa modernization that will order an “interagency” group to evaluate the immigration system in order “to reduce government costs, eliminate redundant systems, reduce burdens on employers and families, and eliminate fraud.” He will also create “a White House Task Force on New Americans to create a federal strategy on immigrant integration.”
- Border Security: The president’s proposals to improve border security will include a “new Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Plan” to be announced by the Department of Homeland Security designed to “strengthen the efforts of the agencies who work to keep our border secure.” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson is also issuing a department-wide “memorandum that makes clear that the government’s enforcement activity should be focused on national security threats, serious criminals, and recent border crossers.” The White House said that, by “establishing clearer priorities” for the types of people within the country who should be deported, DHS is increasing “the likelihood that people attempting to cross the border illegally will be apprehended and sent back.”
- Court Reforms: The Department of Justice and the Department of Labour are also taking steps aimed at focusing the government’s “enforcement resources.” According to the White House, DOJ is “announcing a package of immigration court reforms that will address the backlog of pending cases” and will “pursue regulations that adopt best practices for court systems to use limited court hearing time as efficiently as possible.” DOL is “expanding and strengthening immigration options” for protecting victims of crimes and human trafficking who cooperate with government investigations. There will also be an “interagency working group” aimed at helping crime victims “avail themselves of their labour and employment rights without fear of retaliation.
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