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Barack Obama's 2015 Immigration Policy Changes (So Far)

Immigration policy reform is something that individuals on both sides of the political spectrum agree is necessary and long overdue, but what the reforms should be and how to apply and enforce them have little consensus. For some, closing the borders to all but a few individuals and amending the U.S. Constitution to no longer allow persons born in this country to be bestowed instant citizenship are the simplest solutions. Others, like President Barack Obama, want to focus on a path to citizenship or legal residency for the millions of undocumented aliens already here and to deport those with criminal records.

Since November 2014, the president has implemented or tried to institute his immigration reforms over the objections of a Republican-controlled Congress. His results to date include some small successes coupled with one effort that is on hold.

The New Deportation Policy

One important policy change concerns deportation. Since President Obama took office, more undocumented aliens have been deported than in recent past administrations, including Republican ones. This has been a sore point for legal immigrants and reform advocates, especially advocates for Latino immigration, who have asserted that numerous families have been broken up and law-abiding and taxpaying undocumented individuals have been deported for minor infractions.

The administration has recently revised its policy so that the focus of immigration officials is now on undocumented immigrants with criminal records, those who have violated previous deportation orders, and those deemed threats to national security. According to reports, Obama’s new deportation policy is protecting 9.6 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants from being deported. The report stated that deportation of only 25,000 per year was now expected.

DACA and DAPA Extensions On Hold

In the past few years, the administration has implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and expanded it to the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program designed to provide at least temporary relief from the possibility of deportation for nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants. The reforms would have increased the 2-year work authorizations for the undocumented to 3 years for those who have been in the United States for 5 years and have children who at least have green cards. Advocates for the reforms argue that this would provide additional millions in tax revenues while allowing these individuals to continue to work above board and keep families together.

Unfortunately for the Obama administration and those who would benefit from these programs, Texas officials challenged the reforms in Texas vs.USA as an unconstitutional exercise of executive power and for violating administrative procedure. The suit was joined by 25 other states. The lawsuit found a sympathetic court in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, known for its conservative rulings and judges who some court observers allege have an antipathy toward granting benefits to undocumented immigrants as well as to the Obama administration itself. On May 26, the 5th Circuit enjoined implementation of the DACA and DAPA reforms. The case was heard by a three-judge panel in July but a decision is not expected before June 2016. Many believe the court will uphold the injunction and that it will have to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, which may not render a decision before the 2016 Presidential elections.

For individuals who received the 3-year work authorization after February 16, 2015, those have to be returned; if applicable, they were or will be issued a 2-year authorization. Only about 108,000 people who were issued the extended work authorizations before the injunction went into effect remain unaffected.

H-4 Visa Reform

One of the first small but significant reforms, announced in February 2015, was geared toward allowing the spouses of highly skilled immigrants who are in the US on H-4 visas to work. These individuals are the spouses of those holding H-1B visas. Previous H-4 visa holders were not authorized to work in the U.S. Now, any spouse of an H-1B visa holder who has applied for a green card may apply for a work authorization. Many of these individuals are highly educated immigrants who were unable to use their knowledge and skills in the U.S. marketplace. Officials expect that over 175,000 people would apply this year.

L-1B Visa Reforms

In an effort to attract large scale investments from India, President Obama took unilateral action to ease the issuance of L-1B visas in March. An L-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued to those with supervisory responsibility and specialized knowledge of their company’s products and services. These are used by foreign corporate executives and the policy was specifically directed toward Indian IT companies so that those companies based in the U.S. can now bring employees from their foreign offices to the ones based in the U.S. Indian companies had long complained of their inability to bring their highly skilled workers to the U.S. and that this was hindering their investment efforts here. It is believed that these companies will now be able to develop and grow — and hire similarly skilled U.S. workers.

If you have any questions about the DACA or DAPA programs or regarding visas and your eligibility, call Lee, Green, Stewart & Paul Attorneys at Law and speak to one of our highly knowledgeable attorneys. We have vast experience in all areas of immigration law and can advise you accordingly regarding your status and legal options.