Monday, February 16, 2015

New Major Obama Immigration Reforms Begin Going Into Effect This Week

by Anish Vashistha

On November 20, 2014, United States President Barack Obama announced that his administration would be instituting various executive actions, or reforms, relating to the enforcement of the nation’s Immigration Laws. While some of those reforms have already taken effect such as the delineation of the three enforcement-priority categories, others are yet to be developed at all such as the expansion of the provisional unlawful-presence waiver. Nevertheless, probably the two most popular aspects of the President’s announcement are the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”), which first was available in 2012 but for a more restrictive pool of individuals, and Deferred Action for ParentalAccountability (“DAPA”), which is a completely new program. DACA’s expansion will actually be effective this week with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) stating recently that it will begin accepting applications on Wednesday February 18, 2015. DAPA on the other hand is yet to have a firm effective date with USCIS stating only that it will begin accepting applications in mid-late May 2015. With those dates quickly approaching, it is important for potential applicants to know exactly what they will be receiving if approved, as well as what they are not receiving, and whether they indeed qualify.

For both the expanded DACA and the new DAPA, approved applicants will receive a three-year reprieve from deportation. They will also receive a three-year employment-authorization document (“work permit”), which they can use to obtain a Social Security Number and consequently in most states a valid driver’s license. What they will not receive is a pathway to United States citizenship or lawful permanent residence ("Green Card") because the President alone cannot grant such benefits without the United States Congress acting.The President created the programs to provide at least some sort of immigration-related stability and employment authorization, both of which would still be tremendously better than what several million people unlawfully in the United States currently have: nothing.

Shifting from benefits to requirements, the expansion of DACA would largely maintain the same requirements as DACA in its initial form except for two major differences that greatly increase the number of potential applicants. First, the requirement that one must have lived in the United States continuously “since June 15, 2007” has been changed to since “January 1, 2010,” allowing for more recent entrants to be eligible. Second, the requirement that one must have been under the age of thirty-one on June 15, 2012 has been eliminated altogether, so even much older individuals could be eligible if they otherwise qualify. “Otherwise qualifying” includes the requirements (A) that the person must have entered the United States before the age of sixteen; (B) that s/he is in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development (or “GED”), or has been honorably discharged from the United States military; and of course (C) that s/he does not have prohibitive criminal or immigration history. The determination of whether one’s criminal or immigration history is “prohibitive” is something for which a potential applicant will definitely want to consult an immigration attorney before deciding whether to apply.

Turning to DAPA, the requirements include the same need to prove that one has lived in the United States continuously “since January 1, 2010.” Also, instead of having to prove that one has been living in the United States continuously since a certain age, an applicant needs to have had by November 20, 2014 a child who is a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident ("Green Card").  Finally, and yet another major difference from DACA’s expansion because it is much clearer, DAPA applicants must prove that they do not fall within one of the three above-referenced recently delineated enforcement-priority categories, an explanation of which may be given by an immigration attorney.

It is important to note that for both programs simply having some negative criminal or immigration history does not automatically disqualify an applicant, so it is imperative for potential applicants to seek the advice of someone who not only is a licensed attorney specializing in Immigration Law but also has specific knowledge about the programs themselves.

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