Justice Department and Homeland Security officials are sending to the White House their final recommendations on what immigration executive actions should look like, according to four sources who have been briefed on the timeline.
President Obama is expected to announce a series of executive actions that would slow the deportation of undocumented immigrants, similar to his executive action in 2012 that deferred the deportations of some undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
The details of the final recommendations from the departments, which are expected to be delivered in the next two weeks, are still unclear. Predicting how many undocumented immigrants would be affected is difficult without knowing exactly which groups the administration will include in eventual actions. A handful of factors, however, could have major consequences for those numbers.
For instance, according to four sources, officials are considering what length of time an undocumented immigrant needs to have been a resident to receive protections. If the administration requires proof of 10 years of residency, a far smaller group of people would be affected by the actions than if five years is the standard.
Similarly, it is still unclear whether the parents of young undocumented immigrants — or DREAMers — protected by the 2012 executive action will fall under the new actions through changed enforcement priorities or a larger deferred action program like the one that gave work visas to DREAMers.
Activists who have consistently called on Obama to “go big” say they are angry about what they’re hearing and are ready to go on the offensive to ensure the administration doesn’t lose the nerve they believe they had to act decisively after the election.
There is growing concern about the range under consideration among activists. The bipartisan Senate bill included protections for about 8 million undocumented immigrants and some, like Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez who has been active in the immigration debate, have called for the administration to extend deferment to 3 to 5 million people. Two sources said the numbers they have heard fall below expectations, with one saying it is in the “low seven figures” and another saying it is “3 million.”
Activists are particularly concerned about the length of time undocumented immigrants would need to prove they have lived in the country. After the 2012 action, activists say, fewer people ultimately applied for protections than qualified — for one reason, providing proof of residency is difficult.
The White House pushed back on these concerns saying it is entirely too premature to discuss what the administrative action will look like.
“As you know, the president has not made a decision yet on the administrative immigration reforms he is set to announce by the end of the year. It will be premature to speculate about the specific details including the scope of the number of immigrants who will be impacted since that decision has not been made,” said White House spokeswoman Katherine Vargas.
But advocates say it is precisely these final recommendations to be delivered in the next two weeks that will influence the president, and that’s before his political advisers, who have cautioned being conservative on immigration before, weigh in. It is for these reasons that they see the recommendations as incredibly important and they say they are ready to unleash actions against the administration that were planned for right after the election, now.
“We’re going to ramp up and unleash the ferocity of the movement to get the relief we deserve and expect,” one influential immigrant rights leader said.
“We’ve been repeatedly disappointed and disrespected by this administration,” said Lorella Praeli of United We Dream, which plans to hold a press conference Wednesday explaining the organization defines successful administrative actions as including protections for the parents of DREAMers. “The administration has significant work to do to get right with the Latino and immigrant community.”
And because much can get lost in trying to define how many millions of people would be included in the eventual actions, Praeli made it clear.
“It matters who we’re talking about,” she said. “When I’m sitting here talking to you I’m thinking about my mom and all the parents in the state of Connecticut and throughout the United States.”
“For us we will measure the success or failure from whatever shift in policy occurs on whether it helps or hurts those we love,” said Chris Newman of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).
One immigrant advocacy leader said the White House has not been as forthcoming or as engaging “since they threw us under the bus in September” with the immigration delay, and said that, coupled with what they’re hearing about where the debate stands now on administrative actions, is why they’re accelerating the timeline for planned protests against the administration.
The activists who spoke with BuzzFeed News also were puzzled and expressed frustration over why the White House would consider enacting something the immigrant rights community feels comes up short, because they believe Republicans will hit the president over immigration actions no matter their size and scope.
“We’re going to have a fight on our hands with Republicans and need every part of the movement to be enthusiastic and lean into this fight,” veteran immigration advocate Frank Sharry said. “He’s not going to get criticized any less for somehow trying to go smaller.”
“Whether it’s 1 million or 2 million or 7 million, it will be equal criticism,” said Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “This isn’t about appeasing Republicans; he’s never going to appease them.”
Sharry said he understands the predicament the administration finds itself in but recalled a story AFL-CIO union President Richard Trumka told him once during a meeting as illustrative of where Obama is now.
“He said, ‘When I was union president I would get as much [criticism] when we raised dues a nickel as when we raised them a dollar. Might as well raise them a dollar.’”
And Sharry invoked the concern from advocates that Obama’s political advisers will counsel him to hold back on going big, as they did when he chose to delay action until after the election.
“I’m optimistic he’s going to do it, but will it be big enough to help people and enthuse the movement?” Sharry said. “Politicos around the president may urge him to go smaller.”
Kica Matos, director at the Center for Community Change, said her organization’s expectations have not changed.
“We are expecting that the president will act with courage and deliver for our communities in a big way,” she said. “We expect he will go big and go bold and he will secure relief for as many immigrants as he possibly can.”
Hincapié also echoed calls for the parents of DREAMers to be included along with the parents of U.S. citizens in administrative actions. Ultimately, she said, Obama will be defined in the eyes of Latinos and immigrants by what he does here.
“This is a moment — regardless of what happens with the midterms — this is a moment for him to stand strong and be as inclusive as possible. This is about following through on a promise to the immigrant community. The day after the midterm election, this is all about his legacy and about 2016.”
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