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The “New” Obama Enforcement Policy: Rumor and Reality

It was not yet noon on August 18 when our phone began ringing with people wanting to know how to “turn themselves in” to ICE in order to get a work permit. By the time we got good information later that day on the Obama Administration’s new enforcement policy, the rumor mill was already running. Since then, we have heard that unscrupulous “notarios” and other dishonest people are already preying on the hopes and fears of undocumented immigrants, charging fees to put people on a nonexistent “list” for work permission. Worse than that, people were actively turning themselves in to ICE, assuming that they would receive some sort of amnesty and work permission. Many of those individuals are probably sitting in ICE custody right now wondering what went wrong.

In order to keep these scenes from reoccurring, this column provides some basic information on what the “new” enforcement policy is, and what it is not:

What does the new policy do?

  • It will lead to a review of all 300,000 cases currently pending in immigration courts, in an attempt to identify “low-priority” cases. Examples may include the elderly, military veterans, and undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
  • It will provide guidance to ICE in administratively closing low-priority cases, and in deciding whether to bring new cases against low-priority persons.
  • It will free up ICE resources to concentrate on removal of persons with criminal convictions and those who pose a threat to society.

What does the new policy not do?

  • It does not provide any type of legal status. Even people whose cases are administratively closed technically remain in removal proceedings.
  • It does not guarantee that the person will not be removed in the future. Cases that are administratively closed can be reopened at any time.
  • It does not provide any guarantee of a work permit. Although there has been discussion that persons covered under the new policy can apply for work permission, no guidelines have yet been issued.
  • It does not help everyone. People whose cases are not “low-priority” may even find their removal cases moving faster, as the government focuses its enforcement efforts.

If you are currently in removal proceedings, you should ask your immigration attorney if the new policy affects you. Until then, do not believe anyone who says that the new policy is a “safe” way to gain residency or work permission. As with everything else in life, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Originally Published: La Costa Latina, April, 2009

The information provided in this column is for general information purposes only, and is not intended to constitute legal advice.
If you have specific legal questions, you are encouraged to contact an attorney.