By Reeves Miller Zhang & Diza, A PLC                        En Español

According to White House sources, the President intends to issue an order that will grant work authorization and relief from deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants. The President has not set an exact date for the announcement, but the White House has suggested that the announcement could come as early as next week, and no later than the end of the year.  The specifics of the full plan have not been announced, but every indication from the White House is that it will be big.

White House officials have provided some clues as to the content of President Obama’s forthcoming announcement. Officials have indicated that the President’s order may extend work authorization to parents of children who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The order is expected to limit relief to persons who have been in U.S. for at least five years, or possibly ten years. The order might also require proof of good moral character, and might not be available to persons convicted of certain crimes.

The order could also provide new protections for young people who entered the U.S. as children but were not eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program put into place by President Obama in 2012, and to their parents as well. The order may provide specific protections and relief to agricultural workers and workers with high-tech skills.

The order is also expected to provide sweeping reform to enforcement priorities, further clarifying and expanding the “prosecutorial discretion” orders initiated by the President and the Department of Homeland Security in recent years. The order is expected to clarify that enforcement resources should be focused on aliens convicted of serious offenses, recent border crossers, and those who present a clear threat to safety or security.  Aliens who do not pose a risk or represent an enforcement priority should be able to seek deferred action in order to close removal proceedings, or avoid deportation if a removal order has already been issued.

The President made his decision to overhaul the administration of the immigration laws through executive action after years of Congressional inaction. Although members of Congress have long pledged to pass legislation to provide comprehensive immigration reform, every significant immigration bill in recent years has been voted down or defeated before coming to a vote. Through either inability or unwillingness to act, Congress has failed to deliver on any long term immigration reform, and action from Congress in the near future seems unlikely.

President Obama’s ability to grant relief through executive order is based on his authority to oversee the administration of U.S. immigration laws.  That authority includes the exercise of discretion as to when prosecution of laws (for example, the removal of aliens who have overstayed the period of time authorized at entry) is appropriate or necessary.  The President cannot grant permanent status or citizenship except in accordance with existing law, but he can provide limited immunity from prosecution as appropriate, and can, in his discretion, provide work authorization and even travel permission to persons who are in the U.S. without permission.

Specific details regarding eligibility and procedures are expected when President Obama announces his plan in the coming days.  Stay tuned for more information.

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