De Leon: Confusion and Frustration Over Obama’s Deportation Policy

A protest in favor of the DREAM Act

A protest in favor of the DREAM Act. (Photo: Jobs with Justice/flickr)

The Obama administration’s latest immigration move—classifying young undocumented immigrants as low-priority for deportation—has caused celebration in some circles, consternation in others and a whole lot of confusion for undocumented individuals who have been desperate for a resolution of their situations.

The other day, a gay man asked me if it’s now okay to apply for a green card for his partner.  Yesterday, an immigration attorney friend told me that she was approached by an undocumented immigrant who wanted to know if he should turn himself in to immigration authorities and benefit from this new policy.

The simple answer to both is “no.” Yet this is not evident for most people whose eyes glaze over the labyrinthine U.S. immigration system and whose anxiety and despair cloud better judgment.

Melissa Crow, Director of the Legal Action Center at the American Immigration Council, stressed during a briefing last Monday that “DHS has also been clear that last week’s announcements do not impact individuals who are not currently in removal proceedings. Thus, ‘DREAM’ students and others unlawfully present in the United States, but not in removal proceedings should not actively seek out the immigration authorities.  Since there are no guarantees that an individual removal case will be administratively closed, anyone who seeks to be placed in removal proceedings could end up being deported.”

It is also remains unclear how this new policy will play out in practice.

How long will it take to process 300,000 cases? How many ICE lawyers are assigned to these cases? Who will sit in the working group tasked to develop the criteria that determines who gets to stay? Who are the government agents who will determine the fate of 300,000 people and their families? How will their personal sentiments towards immigrants influence their decisions?

Things would be a whole lot simpler and less confusing if the Obama administration granted a categorical reprieve and path to citizenship for certain groups of undocumented immigrants such as DREAMers, highly-skilled persons and foreign-born gay partners and spouses—those whom some conservatives deem a bit more acceptable and “worthy” than the great unwashed laborers who only produce our food, clean our homes and care for our children.

But this would not fly in Washington. So for now and the foreseeable future, we continue to slog through our morass of an confusing and broken immigration system.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.