On November 20, President Obama announced a laundry list of actions he is taking to improve the U.S. immigration system. The policies range from helping high-tech employees and entrepreneurs to setting deportation priorities in the immigration courts. The policies that will likely have the broadest impact are the “Deferred Action” programs, which may help over four million families. Here’s the thumbnail sketch.
What is Deferred Action?
Have you ever been pulled over for speeding but walked away without a ticket? Even though the officer could have given you a ticket, he or she decided you didn’t deserve it — maybe because you were on your way to visit grandma or heading to church.
Law enforcement officials have “discretion” to choose how they want to enforce laws. Deferred Action is all about this discretion. The president is exercising his discretion not to deport people who qualify for his proposed Deferred Action program. There are millions of people in the U.S. who could theoretically be deported, but that’s logistically impossible. So the president is saying, “here’s a group of people who are a really low priority for being deported, and they should be able to get on with their lives.” Basically, he’s talking about families who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years.
What Deferred Action is not
Deferred Action is:
What does a person get if they qualify?
An individual who qualifies for Deferred Action will receive:
- A promise from the government the he or she will not be deported
- Work authorization – renewable on a three year basis
Who qualifies for Deferred Action?
There are now two Deferred Action programs: a new program and an expanded version of a program that has existed since 2012.
New: Deferred Action for Parents (DAP)
The new program is called Deferred Action for Parents (DAP). This program applies to immigrants who have been in the U.S. a minimum of five years. To qualify, the person has to have a child who is a U.S. citizen or green card holder. The person must have a clear record: criminal conduct or recent immigration violations will disqualify the applicant. There may also be a requirement that the person prove a history of paying income tax.
Expanded: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
The president also expanded the rules for the existing program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This program is for any young person who entered the U.S. as a youth (under age 16), has been in the U.S. for at least five years, has qualifying school or military experience, and has stayed out of trouble. The president did two important things for the program: he removed the maximum age of those who can apply (it was previously age 31) and he reduced the number of years the applicant has to be present in the U.S. to qualify. Note that the new rules for the DACA program won’t take effect for at least 90 days.
What to do if you might qualify
There is a free self-help guide available on my website, but here is some key advice:
- Chill. The programs announced on Thursday are not yet available. The rules for the DAP program won’t be announced until about May 2015, and the new rules for DACA will be available February 2015. For now, you can still apply for DACA under the old, existing rules.
- Collect documents. Start finding documents to show you have been in the U.S. since January 2010. A list of recommended documents is available in my self-help guide.
- Collect criminal records. If you have ever been arrested or convicted you will want to get the “record of conviction” from that matter. You can get information on Avvo about what documents are needed.
- Be careful who you pay for advice. You should get advice only from a qualified immigration attorney or a certified immigration advisor at a non-profit organization. You can start your search at Avvo, where you can read reviews and see detailed profiles for 97 percent of all licensed attorneys in the U.S.
- Don’t leave the U.S. Under no circumstances should you leave the U.S. if you might qualify for these programs! If you have a current immigration court order requiring you to leave, talk to an immigration attorney immediately.
Photo: Chad Zuber / Shutterstock