The government has revoked the amnesties of 22 illegal immigrants who refuse to return their three-year work permits, but Homeland Security officials said they won’t be deported because their offenses aren’t serious enough to merit being kicked out.
The 22, who have not been publicly identified, could have working Social Security numbers and valid driver’s licenses, which analysts said are enough to get them jobs, even though they are not able to work legally anymore.
Administration officials will be in a federal court Wednesday in southern Texas to offer more details about the situation, in which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approved more than 2,600 three-year amnesties and work permits after Judge Andrew S. Hanen ordered a halt to the program in February.
Homeland Security officials managed to either recover or certify as destroyed almost all of the erroneous three-year permits and replace them with two-year permits.
In 22 cases, however, the illegal immigrants refused to comply. Homeland Security then revoked their extra benefits but said they would be allowed to remain in the U.S. because they didn’t meet the department’s standards for deportation.
“DHS has set enforcement priorities to make sure our resources are focused on apprehending and removing convicted criminals, gang members, recent border crossers, and the most significant threats to public safety and national security,” department spokeswoman Marsha Catron said in a statement.
Indeed, the administration said in court filings Tuesday evening that it was considering reapproving full amnesties for 10 of the 22 who have since come forward and returned their erroneous cards or asserted that the permits have been lost or destroyed.
“USCIS will determine on a case-by-cases basis whether to restore deferred action and employment authorization for these individuals,” agency director Leon Rodriguez said.
The amnesties were issued erroneously because of a confusing automated approval process and weren’t intended to flout the court’s order, the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general concluded in a report this month.
Still, investigators said the system is so messy that they cannot be certain how many incorrect amnesties may have been issued. Mr. Rodriguez, in his court filing Tuesday, said the department has taken extensive steps to track down any remaining illegal permits.
The permits are part of Mr. Obama’s 2012 amnesty for Dreamers, the young adult illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Under his policy, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the Dreamers were granted tentative legal status and two-year work permits that allowed them to obtain driver’s licenses, in-state tuition breaks for public schools in many states, and Social Security numbers.
Mr. Obama last year proposed expanding the amnesty to three years and broadening its reach to include 4 million illegal immigrant parents, but Judge Hanen halted those moves in February.
The administration had already begun processing three-year permits for more than 100,000 Dreamers who qualified under the 2012 policy, and those all remain in effect, though they are being challenged by the states that sued to halt the amnesty.
But more than 2,600 other three-year applications were approved and mailed after the February injunction, causing an immense legal headache that the administration is trying to explain to Judge Hanen.
After Judge Hanen accused the administration of having a “cavalier” attitude, officials announced that they would revoke the permits for anyone who didn’t return their cards. In the end, all but 22 complied, for a success rate of more than 99 percent.
Rosemary Jenks, government relations director for NumbersUSA, which calls for a crackdown on immigration, said the 22 have done enough to qualify for deportation.
“These are not only illegal aliens; they’re illegal aliens who have decided they have so little regard for the president’s unconstitutional rules that they’re not even willing to follow those,” she said. “It is amazing to me that it’s not like the government was saying you have to give up your DACA status. They were saying you have to give up your three-year status for two years [and] they’re snubbing their nose at the government.”
Those granted deferred action were able to apply for Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses — two key components to proving identity and getting hired.
Homeland Security said its systems have been updated to catch anyone who isn’t authorized to work.
Likewise, any of the illegal immigrants who try to apply for driver’s licenses or Social Security numbers now will be stopped because their information has been changed in the key federal computer systems, Ms. Catron said.
She said if any of the 22 were to try to use their revoked permits to get jobs, that would be considered fraud and could lead to deportation. The Social Security Administration said if any of the 22 tried to apply for a number now, they would be blocked.
But Ms. Jenks said any of them who obtained Social Security cards and driver’s licenses in the months after they were granted amnesty could easily win jobs at businesses that rely on the paper I-9 forms for employment checks rather than using the voluntary E-Verify system.
Social Security said it does not revoke or cancel numbers once they are issued, so any cards the illegal immigrants have remain valid. But the agency said merely having a number doesn’t entitle someone to work.