DACA wasn’t supposed to be a pathway to citizenship, yet at least 14,000 illegal immigrant “Dreamers” managed to use the Obama-era deportation amnesty for exactly that purpose, the government revealed this week.
The Dreamers took advantage of a “loophole” that allowed them to leave the country and be “paroled” back into the U.S. — and under the law, anyone who is paroled can apply to adjust their status to a full legal permanent resident, or green card holder.
That’s the key intermediate step on the path to citizenship.
“[President] Obama repeatedly maintained that DACA was not an amnesty, would not give immunity for illegal residence, nor a path to citizenship, but this improper loophole was set up to do exactly that — an expedited, consequence-free path to citizenship for those with a spouse or employment sponsor,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies.
The revelation came in a filing in the ongoing litigation over President Trump’s 2017 attempt to phase out the program.
The government reported the number who received expedited status through marriage to a U.S. citizen.
Ms. Vaughan said there could be thousands more who got green cards through job ties or other family relationships.
The Trump administration reported to Congress in 2017 that more than 45,000 DACA recipients had been granted advance parole — permission for those in the U.S. without permanent legal status to leave and then re-enter — creating the opportunity for them to find a valid visa that would earn them a path to citizenship.
Mr. Obama, in creating DACA through a Homeland Security memo in 2012, insisted those who applied weren’t getting a leg up.
“Now let’s be clear — this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship,” he said.
But his administration, in writing the rules for DACA, opened a very large doorway to that path by specifically granting them the chance to win advance parole.
Under that system, a migrant who has an urgent humanitarian reason can be granted permission to leave, then to re-enter the country. Being paroled back into the U.S. then opens up the citizenship avenue.
Parole was put in place nearly 60 years ago as a humanitarian protection to let people into the U.S. without formally admitting them.
But granting advance parole has no basis in law, said Matt O’Brien, a former official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who is now with the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Mr. O’Brien said parole was intended to act as a sort of asylum law, giving immigration officials a way to let in people who showed up at the borders or airports having fled communism or other oppressive regimes.
But advance parole is now being used by people already in the U.S. without solid legal status — often illegal immigrants — to skirt the law.
He said he and other colleagues at USCIS warned the Obama team at the time about the “glaring loophole” they were creating by extending parole to DACA recipients.
“Permitting parolees, who have not been formally admitted to the U.S., to adjust is a glaring loophole in our immigration law. And, in my opinion, it is a loophole that is significantly more dangerous than any of the asylum loopholes,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Advance parole is supposed to be granted only in cases in which a migrant has a compelling need to leave the U.S.
Immigrant-rights organizations set about to create opportunities to give DACA recipients a chance to win green cards.
In one prominent case, the California-Mexico Studies Center advertised such a program, charging thousands of dollars to give Dreamers a chance to travel to Mexico so they could qualify for advance parole.
Part of the fees the program collects helps pay for “legal advice and filing assistance” in obtaining advance parole.
The Obama administration had kept the DACA advance parole data secret, refusing to answer inquiries from Republican lawmakers.
The Trump administration in 2017 reversed that policy and revealed that more than 45,000 DACA recipients had been granted advance parole.
Of those 45,000, USCIS says between 13,908 and 14,358 DACA recipients have gone on to get green cards.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the organization that is leading the legal defense of DACA in the courtroom and which pried loose the data from USCIS, declined to comment.
It’s not clear why MALDEF sought the data.
Mr. Trump, in announcing his attempt to phase out DACA in 2017, canceled the ability of Dreamers to use advance parole to get on the path to citizenship.
Federal courts have blocked most of the DACA phaseout, but they left in place the advance parole prohibition.
“USCIS is no longer accepting or approving advance parole requests from DACA recipients under standards associated with the DACA policy,” the agency told The Washington Times.