President Obama’s recent decision to allow young illegal immigrants in the military or in school deferral from deportation is “an open invitation to fraud,” says the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in a letter sent to the director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Tuesday.
In mid-June, Mr. Obama directed immigration enforcement officials to allow young illegal immigrants who met several criteria – five years or longer in the US, in the education system or the military, and not over the age of 30, among them – to receive a two-year deferral from deportation proceedings and the ability to apply for work permits.
Congressional Republicans were steamed that the president was usurping congressional authority, but they did not say how they would go about reversing the move. Hill Democrats, on the other hand, argued that the president was well within historic precedent.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas says in his letter that “internal documents” show that some immigrants are already being handled under the new policy well before the 60 days the president said the policy would need to take effect. With little to no eligibility guidelines in place, Mr. Smith goes on to argue, fighting fraud will be “virtually impossible.”
“Such a lack of forethought about processing and implementation prior to an announcement of the policy is a dereliction of the duty the President vowed to uphold,” Smith writes. “Unfortunately, this Administration continues to place partisan politics and illegal immigrants ahead of the American people and the rule of law.”
The chairman lays out what he says should be criteria for inclusion under the policy, along with nearly three dozen questions about implementing Mr. Obama’s change to immigration enforcement procedures.
Smith would require applicants to pass five thresholds to be eligible. Applicants would need to:
- Provide a valid school transcript.
- Have authorities validate each transcript with the issuing educational institution.
- Provide documentary evidence showing physical presence in the US at the time the transcript was issued.
- Provide documentary evidence of presence in the US for five years.
Among the politically thorniest of Smith’s questions for ICE are concerns about whether people denied eligibility under the new policy will be detained and deported; whether those admitted under the policy could have deportation proceedings against family members halted for “hardship” concerns; and whether businesses from which applicants submit a record of employment as proof of their eligibility for the program will be investigated for employing illegal workers.
But advocates for the president's policy say the letter ignores the fact that federal direction for "prosecutorial discretion" dates back to the middle of last year, when the Department of Homeland Security directed immigration officials to focus on deporting illegal immigrants who were threats to public safety or national security.
Instead of evidence that the administration is thundering ahead with no standards in place, says Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration for the National Council of La Raza, a general policy already exists under which some young people would be eligible for deferred deportation proceedings who would also be covered by Obama's more specific policy pronouncement when it goes into effect.
In other words, the administration has already laid the groundwork for dealing with some young illegal immigrants inside of the 60-day window.
Ms. Martinez says that immigration advocates have been frustrated, in fact, with how the Obama administration administered the previous policy.
"The issue is, that over this last year we have still continued to see deportations of people who do not meet those priorities [of national security and public safety]," she says. "I would think that hardly anyone, except perhaps Lamar Smith, could take issue with [the fact] that you are going to prioritize national security and public safety."
[This article was updated at 8:11 p.m. on July 3.]