President Barack Obama announced broad changes to national immigration policy last night, affecting up to five million undocumented U.S. residents.
Immigrants who have been living in the United States for at least five years, who have children who are U.S. citizens or whose children are legal residents, may stay in the U.S. temporarily without fear of deportation, provided they register with the government, pass a criminal background check and pay their taxes.
While advocates alike celebrated the announcement, opponents were quick to speak out against President Obama's decision. Republican Greg Abbott, Texas Attorney General and Governor-elect, is planning to file suit in federal court on behalf of the state. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, asked how Obama would explain his decision to those waiting years for legal entry into the United States.
Regardless of the politics, many questions remain surrounding the order, due to be implemented in six months. Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Houston Law Center, spoke with Texas Standard about the everyday implications of the changes for immigrants and business owners, plus the future of deportation.
The first, and perhaps most obvious, question is, how do immigrants who qualify go about registering?
“The issue is really one that needs to be brought to the attention of a licensed immigration attorney. This is a very complicated set of policies,” Hoffman says.
Also at issue is the ability to prove residence in the U.S. for the five-year requirement. Immigrants who have entered the country by illegal means might be loathe to share such information; however, Obama has stated that unless an immigrant is a felon, he or she has no reason to be deported while undergoing the registration process.
Hoffman says the order “is not legal status, and it is not amnesty. … It is a temporary reprieve from deportation which means that the government has agreed not to deport [illegal immigrants] for a set period of time."
Under the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals, the time limit was two years. In six months, under the new policies, the time limit will be three years. But regardless of the new policies, Hoffman reiterates this is not a legal status. "We don't know what the ultimate resolution is going to be, by Congress or by the next administration," he says.
So what's to stop individual judges from unilaterally ordering deportations before the President's policies are enacted? Hoffman says "there's a series of memoranda issued by the Department of Homeland Security" stating priorities for deportation proceedings in the meantime.
For employers of immigrants, Hoffman says, the issue remains much the same: Employers "have to comply with … the rules and regulations that are in place. The only difference, hopefully, is that there will be more people who are lawfully permitted to work."
Texas Standard intern Sarah Talaat contributed to this post.