By Minal Singh
Northwest Asian Weekly
Since this is the time of the New Year, people may want to set their affairs in order.
For some people and their loved ones, immigration status can weigh heavy on the heart.
Obama’s executive order on immigration was released on Nov. 20, 2014. This order creates new policies changing how Homeland Security handles residency and deportation for immigrants. As a result, it is important for noncitizens and their loved ones to understand how they are affected by these changes and understand how to navigate through the new red tape.
Seattle immigration attorneys, through the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Washington Chapter have been presenting roundtables to help media and community members understand the recent executive action on immigration. In their efforts to lend transparency to these new policies, AILA urges that people seek the help of reliable counsel such as immigration attorneys or contact community agencies such as the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, www.nwirp.org.
There are currently more undocumented people in the U.S. than the government has the funds with which to take or enforce deportation action. The immigration order is meant to help with this problem, one that is a burden on the taxpayer and a source of anxiety for the immigrant whose rights and status are uncertain.
Of the current undocumented people, the government (congressional authority, in this case) only provides enough funding to deport a small percentage of persons each year. Not only does President Obama have the authority to invoke this reprieve, he has the responsibility, because of “prosecutorial discretion,” to find a way to fix an immigration system that is understood to be broken across party lines. Congress is responsible for the budget, while the President and Homeland Security decide whom to deport.
“Congress only appropriates sufficient funds for deporting 400,000 out of 11 + million [undocumented immigrants],” according to AILA. This means millions of people remain in limbo. This executive order is meant to provide these people and their families some relief from the stress or fear that can arise regarding proper documentation.
IMPACT ON WASHINGTON STATE
Washington State endorses the executive action on immigration. Early in December, Seattle mayor Ed Murray signed along with other mayors the petition sponsored by Cities United for Immigration Action whose mission is “to strengthen our cities by keeping families together, further growing our economies, and fostering additional community trust in law enforcement and government” and to “work with cities nationwide to implement the president’s executive action.”
January 13, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a court brief in support of the president’s policy. The brief claims that states in general will benefit from the action and shows how Washington specifically will benefit.
“Allowing immigrants to work legally and increase their wages has far-reaching, positive impacts on state and local economies. In Washington, for example, approximately 105,000 people are anticipated to be eligible for deferred immigration action. Assuming that even a portion of the eligible undocumented immigrants register, request a reprieve from deportation, and obtain a temporary work permit, it is estimated that Washington’s tax revenues will grow by $57 million over the next five years” the brief stated.
WHAT THE ORDER DOES
The order helps provide a roadmap that makes transparent how the government decides which people will be deported and which people are safe from deportation.
The order changes older policies and provides a pathway to more secure documentation through “deferred action.” According to AILA, deferred action provides a noncitizen a period of time where he or she will not be removed or deported, but it does not necessarily lead to lawful status or provide a path to citizenship.
Deferred action is not permanent.
This order also provides new provisions to speed up the process of documentation, whether it is through deferred action or changes to the policy of obtaining visas, green cards or citizenship. The infographic from the Washington Post presented by AILA shows how eligibility for citizenship or immigration reprieve is different now under this order.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF APPLYING FOR THE REPRIEVE?
Deportation, then, in light of the executive order will focus on people with felony backgrounds or those who pose a risk to national security.
“The deferred immigration action will be coupled with focusing enforcement efforts on deportation of persons posing the highest threat to national security and public safety—including gang members, felons, and other serious criminals,” the Ferguson’s brief stated.
It is also important to be aware that since deferred action does not confer legal status, when a new administration takes over the rules of immigration can once again change.
WHAT TO DO NOW
AILA suggests accessing resources because of the nature of the implementation of the new immigration policies. Application forms are in the process of being made available. They are not available yet. Regulations change day by day because there still exists opposition from local and federal government to the executive order.
However, as more states, Washington amongst them, continue to back the authority of the order, the impact upon the status of an otherwise undocumented person may have a more certain outlook. AILA provides some important recommendation for what people can do now if they or a family member is interested in filing for documentation.
Begin collecting documents now that offer proof of residency, especially if one were a resident prior to Jan. 1, 2010 or were present in the country as of the president’s announcement on Nov. 20.
Those persons who have had interactions in the criminal justice system should collect documents relating to their case.
Begin saving money because the application process involves various application costs.
Keep up to date on the latest information, especially by visiting the official government website of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at http://www.uscis.gov/executive-actions-immigration/executive-actions-immigration-resources. Flyers are available in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Protect yourself with information. Scams exist currently; people often charge fees and pose as notaries who do not have official authority.
Travel outside of the U.S. should be made with great consideration because such travel may affect one’s eligibility. (end)
Minal Singh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.