President Obama announced a historic plan to protect 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation on Thursday night. He emphasized the deal does not apply to criminals or anyone who has come into the country recently.
President Obama lays out a sweeping plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration system on Thursday night.
The changes will drastically alter the lives of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. From enhanced border security to new processes for foreign workers to enter the country, the plan touches on many aspects of the government’s immigration laws.
The president will protect about 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportations. They will not get U.S. citizenship or legal permanent residence, known as a green cards. But they will be able to live in the United States without fear of deportation, get a work permit and a Social Security number. They will also be able to travel freely back and forth to their home country.
The plan will also allow more young undocumented immigrants to win deportation protections. The president in 2012 created a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that has legalized more than 580,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. That program had some limitations — applicants had to be younger than 31 and arrived in the United States before June 15, 2007. Now, Obama has removed the age cap and expanded the pool to people who arrived before Jan. 1, 2010. That creates an additional 270,000 people eligible for the program.
The plan did not include protections for undocumented immigrants who are parents of DACA recipients, or undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for long periods of time.
The Department of Homeland Security will create the “Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Plan,” an attempt to refocus its enforcement resources toward the southwest border with Mexico.
The department started shifting resources over the summer, when a wave of unaccompanied Central American children rushed across the border. Obama’s plan will formalize those efforts, sending more Border Patrol agents, immigration judges and U.S. attorneys to the border to speed up deportations of people caught crossing. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who normally patrol the interior of the country for undocumented immigrants, will also be tasked with finding people who have recently crossed the border.
Interior immigration enforcement
The new plan will also change the way the government handles undocumented immigrants living far from the border in the interior part of the country. As the administration is selling it, they want to be “deporting felons, not families.”
Homeland Security will now focus its interior enforcement efforts almost exclusively on people convicted of serious crimes, who are members of gangs or pose threats to national security. They will also target recent border crossers to try and discourage future waves of illegal immigration.
The new plan will also change a program known as Secure Communities. Under that program, anyone arrested by a local police agency has their fingerprints checked against federal immigration databases. If an immigration violation is found, the person is detained until ICE agents pick them up to begin deportation proceedings. Under the president’s order, the program will be re-named to the Priority Enforcement Program, or PEP, and more importantly, it will only notify ICE agents that someone with an immigration violation has been arrested. The ICE official will not respond if the person does not fit into one of the priority groups.
The new plan makes several changes to allow foreign workers trained in high-tech fields to enter, and stay in, the country.
Currently, most foreign high-tech workers are sponsored by a company. If they want to change to a new technology job, they must go through an arduous process that takes months. The new plan will allow for so-called “portability” — making it easier for them to switch jobs when they’re in the United States.
The administration will also change rules that dictate how foreign entrepreneurs can get a visa. Currently, many of them must provide an up-front investment, which can be up to $1 million, and guarantee that they will create a certain number of jobs. Under the proposed changes, they will be able to qualify based on money promised by American investors.
The new changes will also open the door for spouses of foreign workers to get their own jobs, and change requirements for applying to make it easier to enter the country.