By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Bishop Martin Amos joins with his fellow U.S. bishops in welcoming the executive action proposed by President Obama to defer deportations for many undocumented immigrants and their families.
The action, announced Nov. 20, “is an important step in protecting many of the families who are subject to current immigration laws that force the separation of family members,” Bishop Amos said.
“However, only comprehensive immigration reform will address many of the flaws in the present immigration legislation.
“At the same time, the Diocese of Davenport cautions those who are potentially affected by the president’s proposals to wait for the official wording of the executive action and the government implementation of the necessary rules and procedures. The diocese recommends that people seek counsel from a licensed attorney with immigration experience or an immigration counselor accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA, an element of the U.S. Justice Department),” the bishop said.
The Davenport Diocese’s Immigration Office employs two BIA-accredited immigration counselors. They anticipate receiving additional training through Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) pertaining to the administrative relief actions President Obama announced.
CLINIC applauded President Obama’s administrative relief, stating that it will benefit “nearly five million immigrants who have lived in the shadows of our society for years. It will help them contribute more effectively to the betterment of their families, local communities and the nation.”
CLINIC shared this synopsis of the administrative relief actions:
• Deferred action for parents (DAP) of U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident alien children. To qualify for DAP, the parent must have been physically present in the United States since Jan. 1, 2010, have not committed a felony or significant misdemeanor, and pay taxes.
The age or marital status of the U.S. citizen child will not be a factor in the parent’s eligibility. Deferred action affords the parent eligibility for employment authorization and protection from deportation for three years. This program will begin accepting applications in about 180 days.
• Deferred action for children who entered the United States before they turned 16 and who entered on or before Jan. 1, 2010. This relief expands upon the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program implemented by the Obama administration in 2012 and provides eligibility for employment authorization and protection from deportation for three years. This program will begin accepting applications in about 90 days.
• An expansion of the provisional waiver program that allows the spouse and some children of a U.S. citizen to apply for a waiver of the unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility before leaving the country to attend their consular interview. The expanded program would include those who are related to a lawful permanent resident.
• Eligibility for advance parole to individuals currently here in temporary status. This would include parents of U.S. citizen or permanent resident children who are granted benefits under the DAP program.
• A Visa Modernization committee will be formed to examine ways to improve and enhance the current system of obtaining lawful permanent resident status.
Discontinued use of the controversial Secure Communities and a re-prioritization of enforcement efforts to target suspected terrorists, convicted felons and those who recently entered the country illegally.
“We need a permanent fix to the immigration system that can only be achieved through bipartisan Congressional action,” said Jeanne Atkinson, CLINIC’s executive director. “Our network has been gearing up to meet this huge need with increased trainings, program management support for sustainability and additional funds to our network offices whenever possible. We will be ready.”
In his speech announcing the administrative actions, President Obama said he felt compelled to act because Congress has not. He stressed that his actions do not constitute amnesty and that border security and enforcement remain priorities. He said Congress should finish the job by passing a bill like the bipartisan Senate bill passed in 2013. That bill would strengthen border security by adding 20,000 more border patrol agents; crack down on companies hiring undocumented workers; create an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who pay a fine and taxes, pass a background check, learn English and go to the back of the line; boost the economy; and keep families together by simplifying the legal immigration process.
“I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law,” President Obama said in his speech. “But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President — the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me — that will help make our immigration system more fair and just.”
Republican Congress members have spoken against the president’s actions. “The President’s executive actions on immigration are the wrong way forward and disrespectful of the law. Such broad, massive legalization is an affront to the Constitution,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. “The President is missing a big opportunity to enact real reform, and instead he’s poisoning the well for future action. Nobody thinks the status quo is okay. But, the President’s actions are only a Band-aid for a real problem.”
Glenn Leach, a volunteer in the Davenport Diocese’s Social Action and Immigration offices, has been following the immigration issue closely for years. “Now is the time for each of us to contact our legislators to let them know that there is a need for comprehensive immigration reform. In recent days … there have been many from both sides who have agreed that reform, comprehensive reform, is in the best interests of the nation. What remains is to hammer out the details of how this can be done in a way that respects life and families as well as national concerns.
“The Holy Father and the bishops have set the framework in which this should occur, abandoning terms that are emotionally laden and substituting those that address all involved, both those native born and those from other nations alike, as children of God with common concerns for life and family, safety, health and education.”