Green Cards for U.S. Military Families

On November 15, 2013, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) released a Policy Memorandum which amended several provisions of the Adjudicator’s Field Manual such that the spouses, children and parents of Armed Forces personnel are now able to adjust their status to that of lawful permanent resident under certain circumstances.  The change affects the family members of those who are serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, or veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces or Selected Reserve.

The policy change is the result of an acknowledgement by both USCIS and the Department of Justice that U.S. Armed Forces personal were experiencing additional stress and anxiety as a result of the immigration status of their family members who were living in the United States without status.  The Memorandum points out that, “We as a nation have made a commitment to our veterans, to support and care for them.  It is a commitment that begins at enlistment, and continues as they become veterans.”

This process, now available to family members of armed servicemen and servicewomen, is known as “parole in place,” as it permits an alien to be paroled into the U.S. even if the alien is already present, but without an admission at a border or point of entry.  Thus, if the lack of a lawful admission is the only barrier to an alien’s adjustment of status, and that alien is the immediate relative of a member of present or former member of the Armed Forces, they will now be eligible to apply for a green card.

A recent article on FoxNews.com (“Immigration change gives legal status to undocumented relatives of US military”) points out that this change has been controversial because some believe the regulation should have been approved by Congress.  However, this Memorandum is well within the powers of the executive branch because it applies to the implementation of existing statutes.  Indeed, parole and advanced parole have been available for decades at the discretion of the government agencies responsible for carrying out the nation’s immigration laws. Though parole in place has historically been used only vary sparingly, it is not a new law or concept.

Parole is authorized in one-year increments. No filing fee is required for an application for parole in place for family members of U.S. Armed Forces personnel.

Immigration Stalemate

Though immigrant communities wait with bated breath and grow faint, Congress and the Obama administration have found themselves in a stalemate.  In the face of mid-term elections, Congressional Republicans are unable to determine if immigration reform suits their individual or collective needs. Speaker John Boehner has been clear that Republicans will not consider the issue this year.

Meanwhile the President faces greater pressure to act administratively in order to slow down the tide of individuals facing deportation.  More than 520,000 young people, for example, have received deferred action under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and they are putting pressure on the president to expand the protections afforded under that program.  Unfortunately, executive action is just as likely to work against the Democratic Party and immigration advocates as it is to benefit them.  As one national expert, Marshall Fitz, has explained: “The more [Obama] does, the less likely we are to get legislation, which is the goal of both the White House and those on the outside pushing for an end to deportations.”

Many agree that legislative action is the only real solution, but talk of legislation is at most hypothetical. While both the Senate and the House of Representatives have spent countless hours considering potential legislation, there is no meaningful reform in sight. On the contrary, a hearing has been scheduled by Republican members of the House Judicial Committee that has been titled, “Enforcing the President’s Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws.” Rather than adjust our ailing immigration laws, the House Republicans are more concerned than ever that it be enforced.

For more:

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/198951-obama-under-pressure-to-slow-illegal-immigrant-deportations  and

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/24/us/politics/young-immigrants-turn-focus-to-president-in-struggle-over-deportations.html?_r=1

The “Detention-Bed Mandate”

On Tuesday, November 19, National Public Radio (NPR) aired a story from the Department of Homeland Security’s detention center in Florence, Arizona, highlighting the large number of people currently held in immigration detention centers nationwide. All 34,000 beds in 250 detention facilities are full, thanks to Congress’s 2009 “detention-bed mandate,” in which Congress instructed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to operate detention facilities at maximum capacity. To meet this high quota, police and immigration officials have ramped up arrests of undocumented aliens. Anyone who lacks the proper residency documents can be detained in ICE facilities, even those with no criminal record. Francisco Rincon, a Mexican national with no prior trouble with the law, told NPR that he was arrested when he took a wrong turn in Tuscon, Arizona, and was subsequently detained for three weeks. Like Rincon, many of the 34,000 currently detained aliens found themselves in detention when they were arrested for minor traffic or criminal violations.

Each detained alien costs taxpayers $120 per day, and the “detention-bed mandate” is estimated to run a total of $2 billion a year. Supporters, like Rep. Hal Rogers (R- KY), believe that the bed mandate is necessary to compel the enforcement of existing immigration laws. Opponents believe that less expensive alternatives, like GPS-monitored ankle bracelets and routine check-ins with ICE, which cost a fraction of the price of detention, are sufficient to ensure the achievement of USCIS and ICE objectives. Those in favor of tougher enforcement vehemently disagree with this contention, citing the roughly 870,000 immigrants who have remained in the United States in hiding after receiving deportation orders. The debate continues in Congress, where the Senate passed a bill earlier this year calling for increased use of alternatives to detention, but the House has yet to pass any similar provisions.

Immigration Reform Gains Momentum

Three House Republicans have now expressed their support of the Democrat-led Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, suggesting that Congress may act before the year ends. This past weekend, Rep. Denham from California announced his support for the House bill in an interview on Univision. On Tuesday, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen from Florida became the second Republican to publically advocate for the bill, and yesterday Rep. Valadao from California joined them and became the third member of the GOP to express his support. Rep. Valadao is himself the child of Portuguese immigrants. Despite growing support, the bill is still lacking nearly 30 votes before it could be passed by the House.

The proposed bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, would restructure the immigration system for family based and employment based applications, increase border security, and provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11-12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.  Despite clear indications of increased support, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives still maintains that they will not allow the bill to go to the floor for a vote, though House Speaker Boehner states that he is “hopeful” a vote may happen before yearend.

For more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/29/ileana-ros-lehtinen-immigration_n_4173785.html; http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-1031-gop-immigration-20131031,0,7439986.story#axzz2jIjUWF4d

Federal Gov’t Shutdown News:

As a result of the federal government shutdown beginning today, immigrants currently in removal proceedings may find that their cases are delayed. Though immigration courts across the nation will continue to adjudicate detained cases, all functions that relate to non-detained cases are now suspended. The Board of Immigration Appeals is only processing emergency stay requests and cases in which the immigrant is detained.

For information relating to a particular court, you may visit: http://www.justice.gov/eoir/ICstatus.htm.