On June 30, President Obama announced he will take executive action to address “our broken immigration system,” as Congress has failed to pass immigration reform. In particular, Obama described how he is and will continue to address the humanitarian situation of children migrants at the southwestern border. Last June, the U.S. Senate passed a bill for comprehensive immigration reform, but House Speaker John Boehner has refused to let that bill come to a vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Meanwhile, as Congress is unable to provide a legislative fix to the immigration system, the humanitarian realities of immigration demand attention.
One example is the recent surge in children crossing into the U.S. from Central America. In the first half of 2014, children have been traveling to the U.S. in record numbers, risking the difficult, violent, and sometimes deadly journey from their home countries, largely El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. To address this issue, President Obama says that his administration will shift resources from the interior of the country to the southern border. Immigration judges, Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys, and asylum officers are all being diverted to the southwestern border to help with the surge of individuals entering the U.S. unlawfully. The Obama administration is seeking $2 billion in emergency funds from Congress to deal with the large influx of children and adults.
Part of Obama’s proposed strategy involves the prompt removal (i.e. deportation) of individuals—including children traveling on their own—who do not qualify for asylum or other forms of relief from removal. Another response to the overwhelming numbers of recent arrivals is to detain more individuals—in an attempt to discourage further border-crossers. In addition, because of the lack of space and resources, the administration is seeking to subject more individuals to the Alternatives to Detention program, where individuals are subject to some form of monitoring, but are not detained. In a letter to Congress, Obama asked for additional resources to focus on border enforcement, deportation and return of recent entrants, detention of children and adults, and increased cooperation with Central American countries relating to deporting migrants and addressing root causes of migration.
But the rush to deport is being decried by advocates and even some immigration judges. One immigration judge compared some of these cases to death penalty cases heard in traffic court settings, saying that immigration courts decide the fates of people fleeing persecution, including unaccompanied children who fear gang violence, but do not have sufficient resources to do so. And though immigration advocates have pushed President Obama to use executive action—as Obama has said he would—to bring relief in the face of congressional inaction, these advocates and immigration lawyers are criticizing Obama’s intention to speed up the process for deporting the newly arrived children.
Leslie A. Holman, President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association responded to Obama’s plans: “If the media reports are true, President Obama is asking Congress to change the law to enable the government to inflict expedited removal on unaccompanied children. That is simply unconscionable. No matter what you call it, rapid deportations without any meaningful hearing for children who are rightly afraid of the violence and turmoil from which they fled is wrong, and contradicts the fundamental values of this nation.” Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, responded to the President’s announcement, saying: “The President is mishandling a humanitarian crisis by proposing an inadequate speedy removal process that only further jeopardizes vulnerable children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America. The U.S. has domestic and international legal obligations to asylum-seeking children, including access to an attorney.”
Obama also announced his intention to pursue further executive action on immigration, beyond the issue of unaccompanied minors at the border. Although he has stated that he will use his executive authority where Congress fails to act, he explained that he has held off for a time on taking any executive action, “to give Speaker Boehner the space he needed to get his fellow Republicans on board.” But now that House speaker John Boehner informed the White House last week that he will not bring the issue of immigration reform to a vote, President Obama said it is time to take action. Obama has directed the Homeland Security Secretary Johnson and Attorney General Holder to identify additional actions for executive action, before the end of the summer, which he intends to adopt “without further delay.” However, Obama clarified that he prefers to see a solution from Congress, a permanent solution, and he will be a willing partner when House Republicans choose to work for immigration reform.
If you or a loved one need immigration advice, please contact the attorneys at Minsky, McCormick and Hallagan.