Obama’s Paradoxical Deportation Policies

President Obama has been called the Deporter in Chief as he has presided over nearly 2 million deportations during his presidency – higher than that of any other President. On the other hand, President Obama has also rolled out some of the most innovative prosecutorial discretion policies, which include granting deferred action to hundreds of thousand immigrants who came to the United States when they were young.

A revealing article in the Los Angeles Times shows that the high number of deportations is largely misleading. The likelihood of an undocumented individual already in the United States who has developed ties being deported has lessened considerably under President Obama. Even people with removal orders can seek a stay of removal if they establish that they are deserving of prosecutorial discretion under the Morton June 17, 2011 Memo.  Young immigrants who arrived in the United States prior to the age of 16 and who meet other conditions can apply for deferred action, along with work authorization, under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The people who are being deported, and are part of the increased statistics, are those who recently crossed the border without inspection and are apprehended within 100 miles from the border. Under previous administrations, such people were informally bused back outside the United States in what was known as “voluntary returns.” Under the Obama administration, these people are fingerprinted and issued formal deportation orders. INA section 235(b)(1), which was enacted by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, granted authority to expeditiously remove persons at the border who are deemed inadmissible under INA sections 212(a)(6)(C) for making a material misrepresentation or 212(a)(7) for not possessing valid visa documents. On August 11, 2004, DHS promulgated a rule to expand expedited removal to persons who are present in the United States without having been admitted or paroled and who are apprehended within 100 miles from the southern border and who also cannot prove that they were physically present in the country continuously for the preceding 14 days. This rule was expanded to all borders on January 30, 2006.

This is not to suggest that the increased use of expedited removal to recent border crossers does not have devastating effects and should not be remedied through immigration reform measures, since many of these crossers are entering the United States to join family members. Still, it is the expanded use of expedited removal that has resulted in an increase of deportations, when under prior administrations, such persons were informally returned from the United States without terming them as deportations. Once a recent border crosser is expeditiously removed, a reentry into the United States also carries severe criminal penalties unlike a ‘voluntary return.” On the other hand, a person who has been in the United States for a longer period is less likely be placed in the removal proceedings, and even if this person is issued a Notice to Appear before an Immigration Judge, he or she can have a shot at requesting prosecutorial discretion under President Obama’s administration than before, which will result in either administrative closure or termination of the case. Unfortunately, the majority of people who came to the attention of the immigration enforcement authorities within the interior, resulting in deportation proceedings,  are those who got arrested for minor offenses.

As an aside and consistent with the topic of this article, there are instances when it can be more beneficial for a person to be placed in removal proceedings than not. Pursuant to INA section 240A(b), an individual who meets 10 years of physical presence, good moral character for this entire period and can demonstrate exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to qualifying relatives who are either citizens or permanent residents can obtain cancellation of removal, leading to lawful permanent resident status. The hardship standard is extremely high and needs to be substantially beyond the hardship that would ordinarily be expected to result from the alien’s deportation, as demonstrated in cases such as Matter of Monreal, 23 I&N Dec. 53 (BIA 2001); Matter of Andazola, 23 I&N Dec. 319 (BIA 2002) where cancellation was denied; and Matter of Recinas, 23 I&N  Dec. 467 (BIA 2002) where it was granted. Another advantage of being in removal proceedings is to escape the 3 year bar based on unlawful presence of more than 180 days but less than 1 year pursuant to INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I). Departing the United States under a grant of voluntary departure, which is issued prior to the alien accruing 1 year of unlawful presence, and after the commencement of proceedings, may allow this alien to reenter the United States without being subject to the 3-year bar. Finally, another tactical advantage to being placed in removal proceedings is when an application for adjustment of status is denied, and the best way to get a second chance is to have an Immigration Judge review the adjustment application de novo in proceedings. The irony is that ICE is often  reluctant to put a person under these circumstances in removal proceedings because it is does not have the resources, and is also of the view that as an enforcement agency,  it is contrary to the agency’s mission to place someone in removal so that he or she can ultimately secure an immigration benefit.  One note of caution is that those who came into the United States on a visa waiver should not consider requesting a removal proceeding as they have waived their right to a removal hearing under INA section 217(b).

President Obama used the increased deportation statistics to show that he was enforcing the law, but this has backfired among his critics. Those who favor stricter enforcement are not satisfied with the record increase in deportations by pointing to the Administration’s expanded prosecutorial discretion policies that has resulted in the deferring of thousands of deportations. Enforcement advocates in Congress use the President’s expanded prosecutorial discretion policies, while conveniently ignoring the spike in deportations, as an excuse to delay immigration reform and cooperating with the President.  At the same time, immigration advocates and allies have criticized President Obama for increasing deportations without truly bringing about genuine immigration reform. After the passage of the S. 744, the Senate’s immigration reform bill last year, there is now a stalemate where the prospects of immigration reform in the House have almost evaporated despite unanimous agreement that the immigration system is broken.

If President Obama desires to cement his legacy with respect to immigration reform, he may not be able to achieve it through this Congress. In the past, President Obama has indicated that he does not have the authority to further expand prosecutorial discretion, but this may have to change. The only way for the President to fulfill the promise he has made to so many who voted for him is to go about it on his own through administrative policy changes. The Executive branch can expand deferred action to a broader group of people, which could include family members of DACA recipients and those who have US citizen children. The prosecutorial discretion guidelines under the Morton Memo ought to be further strengthened to ensure that they are not ignored by ICE officials, as many are wont to do. The parole in place policy for relatives of military personnel can be expanded to benefit those who are on the pathway to permanent residency if they are beneficiaries of employment and family immigrant visa petitions. In an eloquent New York Times editorial entitled Yes He Can, On Immigration, the following is worth extracting:

Mr. Obama may argue that he can’t be too aggressive in halting deportations because that will make the Republicans go crazy, and there’s always hope for a legislative solution. He has often seemed like a bystander to the immigration stalemate, watching the wheels spin, giving speeches and hoping for the best.

It’s hard to know when he will finally stir himself to do something big and consequential.

The President must no longer fear doing something big and consequential on the immigration front. Some may justifiably fear that if the President ameliorates the plight of undocumented people through administrative reform measures, another President can quickly undo them; and therefore it is best for Congress to enact immigration reform. Administrative remedies are clearly no substitute for comprehensive immigration reform passed through Congress, but it would be hard for a future President to undo wise administrative reform measures that provide a fix to a broken immigration system. For example, DACA benefits have already been granted to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who have been able to graduate from college and find jobs. It would be politically imprudent for a future President to undo DACA. Indeed, S. 744, the bipartisan reform bill that was passed by the Senate, incorporates DACA and places DACA recipients on a faster track to permanent residency. If President Obama implements bold administrative measures, it would be difficult for a future administration to undo them, and it is likely that a future Congress will have no choice but to readily adopt them into law.


By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

On November 15, 2013, the USCIS issued a Policy Memorandum formalizing the granting of parole to persons who are present in the United States without admission or parole and who are spouses, children and parents of US citizens serving in the US military or who previously served in the US military. While parole traditionally applies to those who seek to come to the United States, the expansion of this concept to those already here is known as “parole in place”.

According to this memo, military preparedness can be potentially adversely affected if active members of the military worry about the immigration status of their spouses, parents and children. The memo makes a similar commitment to veterans who have served and sacrificed for the nation, and who can face stress and anxiety because of the immigration status of their family members. Such persons can now formally apply for parole in place (PIP) through a formal procedure pursuant to the ability of the government to grant parole under INA section 212(d)(5)(A). PIP would allow them to adjust status in the US rather than travel abroad for consular processing of their immigrant visas and thus potentially triggering the 3 or 10 year bars.

As a quick background, an individual who is in the US without admission or parole cannot adjust status through an immediate relative such as a US citizen spouse, parent or son or daughter. This person is inherently inadmissible under INA section 212(a)(6)(A)(i), which provides:

An alien present in the United States without being admitted or paroled, or who arrives in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the Attorney General, is inadmissible.

Section 212(a)(6)(A)(i) renders an alien inadmissible under two related grounds: 1) an alien present in the US without being admitted or paroled or 2) an alien who arrives in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the Attorney General.

The grant of PIP to a person who is present in the US without being admitted or paroled can wipe out the first ground of inadmissibility in section 212(a)(6)(A)(i). PIP would then also allow this person to adjust status in the US under section 245(a) – as the person needs to have been “inspected and admitted or paroled” – without needing to leave the US.  The ability to adjust status through PIP would obviate the need  to travel overseas and apply for the visa, and thus trigger the 3 or 10 year bar pursuant to INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(i) and (ii). Since there will be no departure triggering the 3 and 10 year bars, this person would no longer need to file a waiver or an advance provisional waiver by demonstrating extreme hardship to a qualifying US citizen relative to overcome the 3 and 10 year bars before leaving the US.

So far so good, but how does one overcome the second ground of inadmissibility in section 212(a)(6)A)(i), which relates to “an alien who arrives in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the Attorney General?” The memo skillfully interprets this clause as relating to an alien who is in the process of arriving in the US without inspection. Thus, the second ground only applies to an alien who is presently arriving in the US while the first ground applies to an alien who already arrived in the US without admission or parole. If the second ground is interpreted as applying to an alien who arrived in the past, then it would make the first ground superfluous, according to the memo. It would also then make the 3 year bar under INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(i) superfluous as a person who at any point arrived, if used in the past tense,  at a place or time other than designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security would be  permanently inadmissible rather than inadmissible for only 3 years. Thus, if the second ground of inadmissibility is no longer applicable with respect to an alien who has already arrived in the US, then the grant of PIP would allow such a person to adjust in the US by overcoming the first ground under INA section 212(a)(6)(A)(i).

The extension of PIP to the families of current or former military service men and women is a proper recognition of their contribution to the nation and an attempt to benefit those who have given so much to the rest of us.  While such logic is compelling, why not expand its application to other instances where aliens have served and strengthened the national interest or performed work in the national interest? How about granting PIP to families of, outstanding researchers striving to unlock the mysteries of science and technology, those with exceptional or extraordinary ability, and key employees of US companies doing important jobs for which qualified Americans cannot be found? And there is also a compelling interest in ensuring family unification so that US citizens or permanent residents may feel less stressed and can go on to have productive lives that will in turn help the nation.  All such people do us proud by making our cause their own and the need of their loved ones to come in from the shadows is real and present. Indeed, the non-military use of PIP was advocated by top USCIS officials several years ago in a memo to USCIS Director Mayorkas, a memo leaked by its critics who wished successfully to kill it.

In the face of inaction on the part of the GOP controlled House to enact immigration reform, granting PIP to all immediate relatives of US citizens would allow them to adjust in the US rather than travel abroad and risk the 3 and 10 year bars of inadmissibility. Such administrative relief would be far less controversial than granting deferred action since immediate relatives of US citizens are anyway eligible for permanent residence. The only difference is that they could apply for their green cards in the US without needing to travel overseas and apply for waivers of the 3 and 10 year bars.

The concept of PIP can be extended to other categories, such as beneficiaries of preference petitions, which the authors have explained in The Tyranny of Priority Dates. However, they need to have demonstrated lawful status as a condition for being able to adjust status under INA section 245(c)(2) and the memo currently states that “[p]arole does not erase any periods of unlawful status.” There is no reason why this policy cannot be reversed. The grant of PIP, especially to someone who arrived in the past without admission or parole, can retroactively give that person lawful status too, thus rendering him or her eligible to adjust status through the I-130 petition as a preference beneficiary. The only place in INA section 245 where the applicant is required to have maintained lawful nonimmigrant status is under INA section 245(c)(7), which is limited to employment-based immigrants. Family-based immigrants are not so subject. What about INA section 245(c)(2)’s insistence on “lawful immigration status” at the snapshot moment of I-485 submission?  Even this would not be a problem. For purposes of section  245(c) of the Act, current regulations already define “lawful immigration status” to include “parole status which has not expired, been revoked, or terminated.” 8 C.F.R. section 245.1(d)(v). Indeed, even if one has already been admitted previously in a nonimmigrant visa status and is now out of status, the authors contend  that this person should be able to apply for a rescission of that admission and instead be granted retroactive PIP. Thus, beneficiaries of I-130 petitions, if granted retroactive PIP, ought to be able adjust their status in the US.

There is also no reason why PIP cannot extend to beneficiaries of employment I-140 petitions. If this is done, would such persons be able to adjust status to lawful permanent resident without leaving the USA? In order to do that, they not only need to demonstrate lawful status, but also  to have maintained continuous lawful nonimmigrant status under INA section 245(c)(7), as noted above.  Is there a way around this problem? At first glance, we consider the possibility of using the exception under INA section 245(k) which allows for those who have not continuously maintained lawful nonimmigrant status to still take advantage of section 245 adjustment if they can demonstrate that they have been in unlawful status for not more than 180 days since their last admission. We would do well to remember, however, that 245(k) only works if the alien is “present in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission.”  Is parole an admission? Not according to INA section 101(a)(13)(B). So, while retroactive PIP would help satisfy the 180 day requirement imposed by INA section 245(k)(2), it cannot substitute for the lawful admission demanded by section 245(k)(1). Even if an out of status or unlawfully present I-140 beneficiary who had previously been admitted now received nunc pro tunc parole, the parole would replace the prior lawful admission. Such a person would still not be eligible for INA section 245(k) benefits and, having failed to continuously maintain valid nonimmigrant status,  would remain unable to adjust due to the preclusive effect of section 245(c)(7). Similarly, an I-140 beneficiary who had entered EWI and subsequently received retroactive parole would likewise not be able to utilize 245(k) for precisely the same reason, the lack of a lawful admission. Still, the grant of retroactive PIP should wipe out unlawful presence and the 3 and 10 year bars enabling this I-140 beneficiary to still receive an immigrant visa at an overseas consular post without triggering the bars upon departure from the US. Thus, while the beneficiary of an employment-based petition may not be able to apply for adjustment of status, retroactive PIP would nevertheless be hugely beneficial because, assuming PIP is considered a lawful status, it will wipe out unlawful presence and will thus no longer trigger the bars upon the alien’s departure from the US.

There are two ways to achieve progress. Congress can change the law, which it persists in refusing to do, or the President can interpret the existing law in new ways, which he has done.  The holistic approach to parole for which we argue is a prime example of this second approach. The term “status” is not defined anywhere in the INA.  By ordinary English usage, “parolee status” is a perfectly natural way of describing someone who has been paroled. Parole is a lawful status in the sense that, by virtue of the parole, it is lawful for the parolee to remain in the United States, at least for the authorized period of time under prescribed terms and conditions. We credit David Isaacson for suggesting that there are other instances in the INA where lawful status does not automatically equate to nonimmigrant status: for examples, asylum status under INA Section 208 and refugee status under INA section 207 are lawful statuses, even though strictly speaking, neither an asylee nor a refugee is a nonimmigrant according to the INA Section 101(a)(15) definition of that term. The Executive can easily revise the memo for military families to declare parole under INA  section 212(d)(5) a status  because it has already declared parole a lawful status for NA 245(c)(2) purposes under 8 C.F.R. 245(d)(v), asylum a lawful status under INA section 208, and refugee a lawful status under INA section 207.  See 8 C.F.R. 245.1(d)(iii)-(iv). In all three cases, people are allowed into the United States in a capacity that is nether legal permanent residence nor, strictly speaking, nonimmigrant.  True, INA section 101(a)(13)(B) does say that parolees are not “admitted”, but is one who enters without admission and is granted asylum under INA 208 ever been “admitted” per the statutory definition of that term? Yet, such a person has a lawful status.

One of the biggest contributors to the buildup of the undocumented population in the US has been the 3 and 10 year bars.  Even though people are beneficiaries of immigrant visa petitions, they do not wish to risk travelling abroad and facing the 3 or 10 year bars, as well as trying to overcome the bars by demonstrating extreme hardship to qualifying relatives, which is a very high standard. Extending PIP to people who are in any event in the pipeline for a green card would allow them adjust status in the US or process immigrant visas at consular posts, and become lawful permanent residents. These people are already eligible for permanent residence through approved I-130 and I-140 petitions, and PIP would only facilitate their ability to apply for permanent residence in the US, or in the case of I-140 beneficiaries by travelling overseas for consular processing without incurring the 3 and 10 year bars. PIP would thus reduce the undocumented population in the US without creating new categories of relief, which Congress can and should do through reform immigration legislation.

There is no doubt that the memo for military families is a meaningful example of immigration remediation through executive initiative. Yet, it is one step in what can and should be a much longer journey. In the face on intractable congressional resistance, we urge the President to take this next step.

(Guest writer Gary Endelman is Senior Counsel at FosterQuan)