As we reported last month, United States District Judge Andrew S. Hanen issued a temporary injunction which has stopped portions of President Obama's Executive Action on immigration in its tracks. At this time, the Department of Homeland Security/USCIS has halted the plans while the Administration appeals the court's injunction and continues to defend the lawsuit in federal court in Brownsville, Texas. As of this writing, DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability) and the new DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) are on hold. USCIS cannot announce implementation dates while the injunction remains in effect.
After a federal budget funding stalemate stemming from some congressional representatives' objection to Executive Action, the Department of Homeland Security is now fully funded for the current budget cycle. Observers may wish to note that not fund DHS would not have impacted USCIS, which is self-funded from the collection of significant filing fees associated with all immigration petitions and applications. Those fees range from $85.00 for fingerprinting and biometrics photographs, to thousands of dollars to establish regional investment centers.
Despite recent turmoil and uncertainty, we remain hopeful. Right now, we continue to counsel current and prospective clients to gather documentation to establish their eligibility, and to avoid scammers who promise results under a program which is not yet in effect.
We are also counseling enhanced caution while things remain in flux. We have been receiving reports of increased enforcement activity on the part of U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). This spike in apprehensions is based on enforcement priorities set forth in a policy memorandum dated November 20, 2014, issued in conjunction with the President's announcement about Executive Action. That memorandum designates three levels of targets, as follows:
- Priority 1 (threats to national security, border security, and public safety)
- Priority 2 (misdemeanants and new immigration violators)
- Priority 3 (other immigration violations) - Those who have been issued a final order of removal on or after January 1, 2014
This seeming US ICE U-turn is troubling, given that a significant percentage of those being caught up in recent sweeps - particularly in Priority 2 and Priority 3 classes - would be eligible for relief under DAPA, DACA, or some other immigration provisions. Instead of being able to plan for their futures, though, these people are being apprehended, detained, and placed into removal/deportation proceedings.
Some of the current enforcement activity smacks of unfairness and evinces a significant lack of understanding between federal and state authorities. For instance, there are growing numbers of reports that non-citizens who apply for a driver's license under a particular Vermont regulation are being arrested at the Vermont DMV, or shortly after obtaining a state-issued driver's ID card. Legal action challenging this and other such practices may result, but in the meantime, anyone who believes that he/she might qualify for immigration relief under DAPA or DACA should exercise extreme care, particularly when it comes to driving and seeking government-issued identification.
As always, we are available to answer questions, and are here to help guide people through the immigration landscape, which these days seems to be equal parts maze and minefield.