The Obama administration is under increasing pressure to halt all deportations after it announced Friday that it was carving out another group of illegal immigrants — family members of active-duty troops and veterans — it would no longer deport.
In a policy memo, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it would allow illegal immigrant children, spouses and parents of troops and veterans to apply for “parole in place,” which would grant legal status to let them remain in the U.S. The agency said it was a way to reward veterans for their service, and to reduce the “stress” on active-duty troops, which the agency said was hurting military readiness.
“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,” the agency said in a memo outlining the new policy.
Advocacy groups said that the latest executive decision underscored Mr. Obama’s powers to halt deportations, and that they want to see him use it for most illegal immigrants.
“We applaud the step and it underscores the truth that the president can and should do more, for all families,” said Marisa Franco, an organizer for the National Day Laborer Organization, which has been staging protests of Mr. Obama’s deportation policies. “The president has the legal authority and the moral obligation to significantly expand upon the memo released today.”
Immigrant-rights groups say Mr. Obama deports an average of more than 1,000 immigrants a day, and they argue most of those aren’t the hardened criminals he says he wants to focus on.
They want to see him halt almost all deportations, particularly while legislation to legalize most illegal immigrants is stalled in Congress.
Mr. Obama has said that while he believes he has authority to stop some deportations, he cannot halt all of them unilaterally.
But his deportation policy remains troublesome.
Those who want to see a crackdown on illegal immigration say he’s cooking the numbers to make it appear he’s deporting record numbers, when in reality he’s shifting illegal immigrants from the border to the interior to artificially boost the numbers.
Still, they argue that the latest numbers from fiscal 2013 — which the department hasn’t released, but which the Center for Immigration Studies says it has obtained — show a big drop in deportations last year.
On the other side, immigrant-rights groups say too many illegal immigrants are still being deported.
They have staged protests and civil disobedience blockades of immigration offices to try to halt deportations and other immigration enforcement actions.
Caught in the middle, the administration has slowly been expanding the universe of illegal immigrants it says it won’t deport.
The biggest single move came last year when the president ordered agents to stop deporting young illegal immigrants who would have qualified for the Dream Act — legislation that would have granted citizenship to illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children who were pursuing an education or promised to join the military. That legislation never passed, but Mr. Obama said those illegal immigrant were deserving of some relief anyway.
But the unilateral moves have drawn criticism from conservatives who say Mr. Obama is overstepping his powers and ignoring the law.
Friday’s policy came a day after Mr. Obama said he would use “enforcement discretion” and not enforce a part of his own health care law requiring most health plans to meet stringent minimum standards by early next year.
The administration said it was able to suspend its own law under the same authority Mr. Obama used to stop deporting young people.
“The secretary’s authority can be used in narrow circumstances to ease implementation short of legislative changes — and this is one of those instances,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday in defending the Obamacare carve-out. “This type of action was used … last year in the administration’s policy on deferred action for childhood arrivals pending immigration reform, for example. That was something that [The Department of Homeland Security] did.”
In both the illegal immigrant children and health care instances, the administration cited prosecutorial discretion powers.
Friday’s announcement on military families cited a slightly different “parole” power.
Citizenship and Immigration Services said it has the legal authority under a section of immigration law that gives the Homeland Security secretary discretion “on a case-by-case basis” to parole foreigners. Parole is usually used to let people in foreign countries enter the U.S., but the agency said it can also be used to let illegal immigrants stay.