Tonight, President Obama announced exciting new immigration policies that will shield hundreds of Montanans from deportation and prevent them from being separated from their loved ones. He is calling these new laws the “Immigration Accountability Executive Actions.”
The new policies will provide temporary protection and work cards to immigrants who have U.S. citizen children and have been here for five years. Every parent’s worst nightmare is to lose the chance to see their child grow up. For too long, Montanans who don’t have papers have had to live their lives in fear of being torn away from their children. Due to our restrictive and counterintuitive immigration laws, many parents of U.S. citizen children have had no options to legalize their status. To make matters worse, immigrants in Montana have often been subjected to racial profiling and other abuses, making it even more difficult to step out of the shadows. Now, the hundreds of Montana parents I have met with over the last eight years will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.
I have five final deportation hearings in May, where my clients were at high risk of deportation. President Obama’s executive action will resolve four of these cases, preventing their deportation.
The new policy also expands on the President’s last executive action on immigration reform, which was called deferred action for childhood arrivals (“DACA”). Now anyone who entered the U.S. before they turned 16 years old, and have been here for five years, will be eligible for temporary protection and work cards. Our law firm obtained DACA benefits for dozens of young immigrants who came here before they were 16 years old, but some had “aged out” of eligibility because they were now over 30 years old. It no longer matters how old you are. This will be of great help to many Montanans.
Finally, the new policy provides some benefits to immigrants who are here illegally, have been waiting for family-based immigrant visas for many years, and finally have visas available. For the first time, the laws will allow adult children of U.S. citizens, and immediate relatives of green card holders (their spouse, parents, and children who are under 21), to be forgiven for being here illegally and have a chance to stay. The policies do nothing to speed up how long it takes for these visas (often times over 15 years) but at least there is an option for those who have waited so long and have their visas ready.
There are hundreds more Montanans who came here as adults, are not parents of U.S. citizens, and don’t have any family who can petition for them to stay. For them, these new policies will come as a disappointment, because they won’t find any benefit. These new policies are welcome changes, but only provide temporary relief — Congressional action on immigration reform is still needed to make more lasting changes.
I have begun the monumental task of contacting all the Montanans I have represented or met with who will qualify for benefits. While the law doesn’t take effect right away, those who are eligible for relief can start working on gathering the evidence that will be needed. I have several clients who are in deportation proceedings, but who will now qualify for these benefits. In those cases, I will seek to postpone those proceedings until these laws are in effect.
We urge immigrants who want to apply for these benefits to contact a qualified immigration attorney. There are still important considerations that may make you ineligible for benefits, and a qualified immigration practitioner will be able to advise you on your options.