Indian immigrants are less likely to be here illegally than other immigrants. Despite this, some Indians in the United States or their friends and family members may benefit from the Obama Administration’s newly announced policy on deportations. There are approximately 200,000 individuals from India now residing in the United States without legal status, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The new policy came in response to criticism, largely in the Hispanic community, that many individuals were being placed in deportation when encountered after traffic stops or after committing minor violations. In many cases, police or federal authorities became aware of these people under the “Secure Communities” initiative. On the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website, Secured Communities is described as follows: “It uses an already-existing federal information-sharing partnership between ICE and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that helps to identify criminal aliens without imposing new or additional requirements on state and local law enforcement.”
Controversy has swirled as the initiative appeared to sweep up many people beyond the initially stated intention of the policy to focus on getting off the streets illegal immigrants who pose a danger to others. In response to this criticism, in June 2011, John Morton, the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), released a memo that informed personnel in the field who they should prioritize in pursuing deportation. Still, despite the memo, stories of individuals with sympathetic stories being placed in deportation proceedings under the initiative began to dominate the Spanish language press in the United States.
In an August 18, 2011 letter to Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and other members of Congress, the Obama Administration described the new policy: “Under the new process, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) working group will develop specific criteria to identify low-priority removal cases that should be considered for prosecutorial discretion. These criteria will be based on ‘positive factors’ from the Morton Memo, which include individuals present in the U.S. since childhood (like DREAM Act students), minors, the elderly, pregnant and nursing women, victims of serious crimes, veterans and members of the armed services, and individuals with serious disabilities or health problems.” (Senator Durbin’s website provides more details.)
What does this all mean?
How does this review of pending deportation cases affect people in the country illegally or those with family members here out of status? Whether from India or Mexico, anyone in the country illegally should not view the policy as an amnesty. There is nowhere to apply. However, those placed in deportation proceedings whose cases are not pursued may be able to receive work authorization.
“The announcement should mean the end of the deportation process for a large number of individuals,” according to immigration attorney Greg Siskind. “Individuals whose deportation proceedings are closed are not going to receive a visa, green card or any new type of legal status. Some may be eligible for work authorization, however, but even being granted such documentation will not be the same as having a legal status in the U.S.”
This is an important distinction: being allowed to work is not the same as possessing a permanent right to live in the United States, which would normally come from receiving a green card. Individuals likely will not be able to travel freely even if they receive work authorization under the policy. “The new policy will not remove barriers to green card processing such as being subject to the three and ten year bars on reentering the U.S. as well as bars on adjusting status for individuals who entered the country without inspection,” notes Siskind. Upon attempting re-entry an individual might not be allowed back into the United States.
Every immigration case is unique. Those with friends or family members who may benefit under this policy should be wary of anyone promising they will be able to secure someone a green card because of the new procedures. The new policy is designed as temporary relief and a response to a political outcry over a possible misapplication of enforcement resources. It is not an amnesty, nor should it be considered one. Most important, this is a discretionary change in policy and, as such, can be changed again in the future.