A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Warning: New Enforcement Policy is Not Amnesty

The Obama Administration announced a new enforcement policy last week - a case-by-case review of about 300,000 deportation cases in the system to determine their enforcement priorities.  The low priority cases will be allowed an opportunity to stay in the U.S. temporarily and issued an authorization document to work.  However, it is very important to understand that this is not a comprehensive amnesty program.  This is a new enforcement plan with no details announced yet.  There is no application to file and no fees to pay.  Nobody can apply for employment authorization right now. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) warns the public not to believe any rumors, false advertisements, scams, etc., out there in the immigrant communities.  

This new announcement is not a new law; it is only a way for the government to use its resources wisely.  And it is only targeting the cases that are currently active in the immigration court system.  A committee of individuals from several government agencies will be formed to review and prioritize about 300,000 cases in the system based on factors such as criminal history, danger to community, national security, family ties, health conditions, etc.   High-priority cases will be prosecuted under the law.  Low-priority cases will be reviewed to determine if they should be removed from the court system.  The respondent (individual in removal case) will also have a chance to stay in the U.S. temporarily and receive employment authorization.   The government emphasizes that the review process will be based on each individual case's merits and will not favor any group or category of individuals.

It will likely take months, if not longer, for the review to be complete.  Further details of determination will also be issued gradually.  Again, this is only a review of the cases already in
immigrant court removal proceedings. It is unclear as to how many of these cases will receive favorable treatment. One must not assume anything and make plans accordingly.   As of now, there is no mechanism for an individual to "sign up" or "apply" for any benefit.   Illegal immigrants who turn themselves in to the authorities can be arrested and deported.   It is expected that many "immigration agencies" and "consultants" will try to take advantage of this program for financial gains.  The public is reminded to only get information from the government and licensed immigration lawyers.  
This new policy should not come as a surprise.  The Department of Homeland Security and its branch bureau, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have issued guidelines to authorize immigration enforcement officers to exercise discretion in handling removal cases.  Such an approach will allow immigrant officers and judges to focus their limited time and resources on the most important and urgent cases, and the most dangerous and undesirable individuals - the convicted felons, the terrorists, and other public security threats.  The recent announcement is only an execution of the Administration's enforcement policy, although it may seem to have impact on a large number of cases. 
 
What should an individual do to take advantage of the new policy?  First of all, get accurate and updated information from the government or an experienced immigration attorney.  The immigration laws and policies are getting very complicated and change constantly.  It is almost impossible to do things "right" without the help of an experienced and caring immigration attorney.  Second, do not trust any person who makes promises about applying for a green card or employment authorization document.  If something sounds too good to be true, it is probably not true.  Third, obtain and organize ones documents well including tax returns, employment records, pay stubs, bank records, rent receipts, mortgage documents, medical documents, passport, Form I-94, recommendation letters from friends, relatives, and community organizations, etc.  Fourth, obey the law, be a good student/worker, and do not get into unnecessary trouble.

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