President Barack Obama followed through last week on his promise to execute executive authority on US immigration policy that would effectively provide almost 5 million undocumented immigrants with protection from deportation. The action came as very welcome and long-awaited relief for immigration advocates but it leaves a gaping chasm of uncertainty for the remaining 6 million to 7 million undocumented immigrants who are currently in the country regarding whether or not they will be allowed to stay. The announcement was bitter-sweet for advocacy groups and those they represent as they promised to sign up as many immigrants as possible while at the same time knowing that there would be just as many if not more who they would have to turn away.
Among those ineligible for amnesty include undocumented immigrant adults without children, those who arrived in the United States within the last five years, those whose children were not born in the United States, those with criminal records, and gay immigrants. The president put strict and specific qualifications on his allowances that put something of a damper on the changes for undocumented immigrants and their supporters. In order for individuals to qualify for Obama’s new deferred action program, an undocumented person must have been living in the US for at least five years and have a child who is either a US citizen or a legal permanent resident.
The president’s existing deferred action program was expanded to include childhood arrivals which essentially eliminates that age limit to allow for any undocumented persons who were brought to the country before their 16th birthday to qualify. As a result of these requirements, the administration has estimated that about 5 million of the nation’s undocumented immigrants will qualify for amnesty.
The Reasons Behind the Requirements
It is unclear why the president chose the age and child restrictions that he did and since the announcement last week there has been a substantial amount of debate about his reasons. Many have called certain of these elements arbitrary, such as the requirement that an individual must have been in the country for at least five years, and claim they are not based on any specific or compelling difference between someone who has been in the US for four years as opposed to someone who has been here for six.
Additionally, there is something of a “gray area” when it comes to certain other elements that advocacy groups say should be used as determinants of whether or not an individual qualifies such as their involvement and contributions to the community. These types of elements are difficult to judge and are inherently too subjective but others argue that the length of time an individual has been in the country is also a matter of debate. For example, someone who has lived in the US for six years and has a child but has made no “significant” contribution to the community is automatically eligible but someone who has been in the country for ten years and has contributed substantially to the community but has no children is not. Despite the executive action, the latter is still in danger of being deported despite possibly having a family in the country and being a valuable member of his or her community.
If you or someone you know is in need of legal counsel regarding an immigration issue, please contact the immigration attorneys at the Lyttle Law Firm in Austin, Texas or call their offices at 512-215-5225.