President Obama recently announced a new policy to create a panel of DOJ and DHS officials who will review the 300,000 or so cases currently before the U.S. immigration courts. Immigrants who meet certain criteria such as attending school, having family in the military or having primary responsibility for care of other family members, or being a crime victim, among other factors, may be eligible to have their cases placed on a low-priority track and also obtain authorization to work. The administration argues the new rules re-prioritize deportation proceedings, allowing immigration officials to focus enforcement on criminals. Critics contend the president’s order is an end-run around the Constitution and backdoor amnesty. University of Houston Law Center Associate Professor Geoffrey A. Hoffman is a strong advocate for legal immigration and believes the new rules are a step in the right direction. Hoffman, faculty supervisor of the Law Center’s Immigration Clinic, took a few moments to answer questions about the new policy and its effect on immigration and deportation.
Q. Can you briefly outline provisions of the new discretionary policy?
The new policy announced on August 18 is a move toward much needed re-prioritization and aims to address the backlog in the immigration courts. It is not an amnesty or legalization program. It will allow officials to put on hold a significant number of cases and allow the federal government to focus deportation enforcement on the real criminals and people who are a national security or public safety risk. Persons chosen for the program may be provided the opportunity to apply for employment authorization documents (EADs).
Q. At what point would the rules take effect and what is the best guesstimate of how many people might be affected?
There is no specific timeline. The Obama administration has already come under criticism for not giving a specific time frame and not providing details about how the administrative procedure will work. There is no firm number or estimate about how many people it would benefit, but certainly could be on the order of thousands or even tens of thousands of people.
Q. What do you see as the chief benefit of this new policy?
The chief benefit is to the country’s safety and security. There is no question that a person who has not committed a crime, is a military service member or family member, or meets other criteria, such as caring for a family member or crime victim is not a threat to our nation. There is no question that it makes no sense to deport those people at the expense of using up limited resources that would be better spent targeting hardened criminals.
Q. What’s to ensure that an undocumented immigrant released as a low priority would show up for a later hearing?
Since their cases would be administratively closed, presumably there would be no date set for the new hearing unless or until the Department of Homeland Security or the respondent requests one. At that time, they would be provided notice of the hearing and would be required to appear. By definition, since these are non-criminals, the new policy will primarily affect people who are not detained and would be attending their hearings voluntarily anyway.
Q. How do you answer critics who contend the president is circumventing Congress as part of a master plan toward blanket amnesty?
A blanket amnesty would involve some issuance of status. There is no status provided by this policy. It merely is re-prioritization, designed to target the correct people. Since we only have resources to deport about 4 percent of the 10-12 million undocumented people in the U.S., we need to use our resources more intelligently.
Q. Any advice or warnings for immigrants hoping to qualify under the new rules?
Immigrants must be warned not to be misled by “notarios” and others who may claim there is some “relief” that can be applied for under the new Obama policy. This is not the case at this time. All persons potentially affected should contact a competent immigration lawyer, preferably one belonging to the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA), for advice and counsel on this new policy.
Professor Hoffman was recently interviewed about the new policy on KTRK Channel 13. Click here to watch the interview. http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/video?id=8318624#global
To schedule an interview with Geoffrey A. Hoffman, please contact: Carrie Criado, Executive Director of Communications and Marketing, cacriado@Central.UH.EDU, 713.743.2184; or John Kling, Communications Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org , 713.743.8298.