The Immigration Reform Waiting Game

Three days into the new years and already here come the headlines about what President Obama MAY do in terms of immigration reform. But first we wait for the fiscal cliff issue to be really settled and other bills as well. The more we talk about what could happen means the less attention we are paying to what is happening in immigrant communities across the country. More of the same.

For example, on December 21, ICE announced another record breaking deportation year with  410,000 immigrants deported. Almost half of those deported had no criminal records. This blow was supposed to be buffered by another announcement the same day, revealing “changes” to detainer guidelines. The guidance  limits the use of detainers to individuals who meet the department’s enforcement priorities and restricts the use of detainers against individuals arrested for minor misdemeanor offenses such as traffic offenses and other petty crimes, helping to ensure that available resources are focused on apprehending felons, repeat offenders and other ICE priorities. It is applicable to all ICE enforcement programs, including Secure Communities. Of course the public has seen similar announcements and memos before with little actual change in practices.

Just like with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, there is news that could help some immigrant families. Again it is not an Executive Order, as I have seen some news outlets describe it (seriously can we have a review course on what makes an executive order an executive order – for example a presidential signature). The Department of Homeland Security issued a new rule which states that beginning March 4, undocumented immigrants who demonstrate that time apart from a U.S. citizen spouse, child or parent would create “extreme hardship,” can start the application process for a legal visa without leaving the U.S.

National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights (NCIWR) estimated in a release today that the policy could potentially impact nearly one million immigrants, especially women. According to NCIWR , over half of all immigrants are women, and women are the drivers of naturalization in their families. In 2010, women represented 55% of all green card recipients and 53% of all naturalized citizens.

It’s important to note that just like with DACA, this is something that needs to be proven and approved and still would require applicants to leave the U.S. briefly in order to return to their native country and pick up their visa. And just like with DACA, it remains to be seen what will be the proportion of approvals to applications before we start praising the Obama administration.

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