Journalism in the Public Interest

Obama Administration Considers Bypassing Congress on Immigration Reform

Leaked memo shows that the Obama administration is considering bypassing Congress to get immigration reforms that would give permanent resident status to tens of thousands of people currently in the country illegally.


U.S. Border Patrol agent Richard Funke patrols along the border fence between Arizona and Mexico at the town of Nogales on July 28, 2010. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

The Obama administration, anticipating that Congress might not pass comprehensive immigration reform this year, is considering ways it could act without congressional approval to achieve many of the objectives of the initiative, including giving permanent resident status, or green cards, to large numbers of people in the country illegally.

The ideas were outlined in an unusually frank draft memo prepared for Alejandro N. Mayorkas, director of the federal agency that handles immigration benefits, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). The memo lists ways the government could grant permanent resident status to tens of thousands of people and delay the deportation of others, potentially indefinitely.

"In the absence of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, CIS can extend benefits and/or protections to many individuals and groups by issuing new guidance and regulations," said the memo, which was prepared by four senior officials from different branches of USCIS.

The 11-page document was made public Thursday by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who with six other senators wrote to Obama more than a month ago, asking for his assurance that rumors that some sort of reprieve was in the works for millions of illegal immigrants weren't true.

"The administration has failed to reassure us that the information we were hearing was inaccurate," Grassley said in a statement to ProPublica Thursday night. "This memo gives credence to our concerns that the administration will go to great lengths to circumvent Congress and unilaterally execute a back door amnesty plan."

The memo's release is certain to put the administration on the defensive with opponents of "comprehensive immigration reform" -- Washington code for putting many of the estimated 12 million people in the country illegally on a potential path to citizenship. It is also likely to make immigration an even hotter topic in this year's congressional elections, which have already been roiled by Arizona's controversial attempt to use state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws.

Christopher Bentley, a USCIS spokesman, said last night that the agency would not comment on details of the memo, which he described as an internal draft that "should not be equated with official action or policy of the Department...We continue to maintain that comprehensive bipartisan legislation, coupled with smart, effective enforcement, is the only solution to our nation's immigration challenges."

Bentley said that internal memos help the agency "do the thinking that leads to important changes; some of them are adopted and others are rejected" and that "nobody should mistake deliberation and exchange of ideas for final decisions."

"To be clear," he said in an e-mail, the Obama administration "will not grant deferred action or humanitarian parole to the nation's entire illegal immigrant population."

One of the memo's most controversial suggestions is wider use of "deferred action," the agency's discretion to indefinitely delay the deportation of otherwise deportable non-citizens. "This would permit individuals for whom relief may become available in the future to live and work in the U.S. without fear of removal," the memo said.

The memo acknowledges that granting deferred action to an unrestricted number of people "would likely be controversial, not to mention expensive." Instead, it suggests that this option be used for particular groups, such as the approximately 50,000 young people who would be allowed to stay in the country if Congress passed the Dream Act. That bill would provide a potential path to citizenship for qualifying young people who complete a college degree or two years of military service.

The memo also says that standards for "extreme hardship" cases could be eased so "many more spouses, sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents" could seek relief without fearing deportation.

In what would be a reversal of a position held by the agency's Office of General Counsel under previous administrations, the memo suggests granting green cards to large numbers of people currently in the country under Temporary Protected Status. That status typically is used to forestall deportation proceedings for large groups of undocumented foreign nationals when it would cause them hardship, such as sending them home in the wake of a major earthquake or hurricane or during a civil war.

Supporters of comprehensive immigration reform are certain to welcome any effort by the Obama administration to unilaterally open pathways to citizenship for many currently in the country illegally. But the draft is also sure to outrage immigration-restriction groups.

"The memo proposes 18 different ways for the Obama administration to essentially eliminate our borders through regulatory fiat and in clear violation of the letter and the spirit of U.S. immigration laws, which Obama swore an oath to faithfully execute," said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for NumbersUSA, an organization that lobbies for tighter immigration laws and practices.

Saweeeeeet!!!!  Bring on the documentos, baby!

If Obama could just bypass Congress on Immigration Reform, you would think he would plucky enough to bypass the Generals and just repeal DADT.

Well, I believe Mr. President is trying to do something. Unless we still want to be in this situation, something has to be done and I agree that a immigration reform will bring back our country to be respect and the big country in this planet.

Finally the President will show them he has cojones !!!

Brian Fortier

July 30, 2010, 5:18 a.m.

It is a real gamble, and one which should be considered with great care.  The question is whether, as a result of granting such amnesty, there are enough pleased illegals and their supporters to re-elect Obama, or would such action doom his second term.

I think President Obama should not think about reelection but doing what is right for the people in this Country.
For the youth that are here since babies and now going to College or graduating from College, The legal immigrants ( Waiting for a visa number to travel ) and the illegal immigrants that need to get their lives going again and want to pay taxes.
Let’s do it NOW.

Nathan Warecki

July 30, 2010, 7:58 a.m.

The changes mentioned in the article are regulatory changes that are entirely within the jurisdiction of the Executive Branch to amend or change.  The Bush Administration used their authority in regulatory matters to oppose immigration at every turn they could - and thereby created unnecessary hardships to U.S. citizen babies, toddlers, teenagers, mothers, fathers, parents, and the list goes on.  Softening of the Executive Branch’s draconian powers in this matter is at the Obama Administration’s discretion.  I applaud them for exercising that authority responsibly - with an eye towards the good of the American people affected by removals and the foreign individual’s whose countries have been destroyed.

dear . mr obama you are going to good direction . if congres not understand the problem and Gop doing the politcks on immigration issue and not looks series solve the problem

Brian Fortier

July 30, 2010, 9:35 a.m.

Obama takes a certain action.
Republicans strongly object.
Democrats say, “Well, Bush did it”.

Inference; when Bush did it it was wrong.

So, when Obama does it, it is right?

Any such claim is a totally ineffective response to any objection to an Obama action.

Nathan Warecki

July 30, 2010, 9:43 a.m.

It is rarely the act of exercising power that is the problem, Mr. Fortier.  It’s the way in which the power is exercised.

Brian Fortier

July 30, 2010, 9:56 a.m.

Both used regulatory powers to gain their goals.

Assume that such use is legal and proper, since Obama’s use of those powers is approved by his liberal base.

Therefore, it is not the way in which those powers were used.  Rather, it is the targets and the effects upon those targets, which are the grounds for disagreement.

Bush used them to further conservative goals (mostly).
Obama is using them to acomplish liberal goals, which because of their socialist trend, are objectionable to conservatives.

Back to the point;  It is illogical to be critical of Bush for specific actions, and then approve Obama for using the same procedures.

Nathan Warecki

July 30, 2010, 10:04 a.m.

We’re debating the specific actions taken by the President using his regulatory power, not the use of the power itself.  How is it “illogical” to agree with one set of decisions, because you agree with them, and not another set of decsions, because you don’t?

Regulatory power is good. It clarrifies Congressional action and codifies it to work within the existing laws of our federal governemnt , I just don’t agree with the way the Bush Administration used it with immigration.  This isn’t “illogical,” it’s an opinion.

I assumed you were objecting to the use of regulatory powers to accomplish a goal not obtainable through congressional channels. 

Your objections to such use on immigration matters seems to be based on humanitarian grounds.  If immigration rule had been followed in the first place, and the immigration process had been followed as provided by law, making provisions for effective assimilation, the problem would not even exist, today.

The liberals appear to want an immigration program similar to that which Reagan gave us.  Retrospect shows that it merely opened the door to further disregard of the laws, and it should be obvious that repeating the process would not give different results.

The problem can be solved if political considerations are not part of the mix.  It is a problem that everyone wants to solve.  The conservative offer is, first control the borders (how can anyone object to that?), second, establish an immigration rate which will allow for effective assimilation, and third, sit back and enjoy the beneficial effects that such a program would have on all parties exept those who disregard the law for their own gain.

Wow what a brain, give all these people amnesty, that have already proved they can’t obey laws by being here illegally. then just slap the face all the other people who went through the time and expense to do it right, hell just stay here illegal long enough and it will be free. and now all these illegals get benifits free without having ever paid for them via taxes.

Nathan Warecki

July 30, 2010, 11:03 a.m.

When take the humanity out of the problems of immigration, it seems so simple! ...only you can’t take it out, you can only ignore it.

There are never ONLY two sides to an issue.  Lumping everyone together in two camps, liberal and conservative, is naive. 

Have you ever worked with a family whose only wish is for the husband or the wife or the child to get a drivers license, for the alien to contribute to their family’s well being, and the only thing standing in their way is the federal government.  To see an American family ripped apart at its seams because of a strict federal regulation.  It’s heartbreaking and it is, my friend, is illogical.

The border is secure - a secure as a border can be without placing a standing army on it.  CBP apprehensions are down and the U.S. Immigration Court system is backlogged with people who have been caught and are awaiting removal.  It’s time to let those who are living underground, outside or peripheral to society, and with very real connections to this country to live and work and contribute to our nation.

The borders must be secured, whatever it takes, for national security reasons, alone.  If it takes a standing army, so be it.  To suggest that it is secure enough at present ignores the uncontrolled trafic in drugs, gangs and human beings, who are reduced to slaves, in the smuggling process.

Even humanitarian concerns must be subject to classification, with first priority going to legitimate Americans.  This should not be a matter of presidential discretion, it is his sworn duty.
No member of the Congress, nor the President is authorized, by any provision of the Constitution, to allow our childrens’ heritage to be threatened.

.............I have a feeling that obama will eventually end bypassing congress and the senate for everything…my prediction america will not hold another presedential race….well see

So the President looks to by pass the congress and the voice of the people. Hail to da chief.. in 2012 your history

Yay to Nathan Warecki’s comment!

The fact remains we need to learn from history and not repeat it.  The public does not know all of the facts.  If one were to look at the immigration rate over the 20 years or so they would find number of things. First the majority of immigrants are here as a result of some illegal act. You are probably saying how can that be if we still have legal immigration. Easy all of those who were here for the last amnesty were able to apply for their spouses, children and parents thru the “Family Unity Act” and then their spouses for their parents.  So everybody after the original is also a beneficiary of that same illegal act, the entry, which probably adds up to an additional 3 to 6 per individual so that 12 million could become 40, 60 or more.  Then you fold in fake marriages, and false asylum claims and the numbers at staggering.  Now lets look at the reason. The arguement is that they are coming here to make a better life, maybe but, not a better life here.  My parents were immigrants, they came here the legal way, they came here, lived here, worked here, died here and are buried here.  The modern immigrant is here to cash in on the “Golden Egg” (at some else’s expense) and leave.  That why “asylees” once granted apply for permission to travel….where to? The country they supposedly are seeking ayslum from.  The Former President of Mexico Vincente Fox, while in the US stumping for US immigration reform said that there families in Mexico who depended on the money sent back from the US.  (While you are checking that I suggest you look into Mexico Immigration Laws, reports have it they are very enlightening).  One last thing people argue that these people are taking jobs that that no one wants.  I am not sure that is correct, when I was in High School I used to cut grass in the summer, my brother flipped burgers during his break.  You may not see that near urban areas any more (in part due to the crime rate such as gangs MS-13[here primarily from El Salvador and Mexico] but in suburban America schools kids are still looking for jobs, jobs that were here 20 years ago.  Taking it further I have friends in construction who can not find a job due to all of the day laborers taking jobs for less. Even CNN reported just last night that 17% of construction workers are illegal and some 40% of masonary wokers and that is not because of a shortage of legal construction workers.  In all, this is just the tip of the ice berg, the strain goes even deeper with medical costs, education costs (at all levels), and on and on.  The fact is they are breaking the law.  Some argue that it was adminstrative and non violent but so was Martha Stewart’s and Leon Hemsley’s but they did the crime the paid the time.  So the government keeps families apart all the time because one member is in jail.  Lindsey Lohan most recently.  The US really really needs to wake up.

So the President looks to by pass the congress and the voice of the people. Hail to da chief.. in 2012 your history. Only in America can a convict have a greater say than a LEGAL US CITIZEN

gwen caranchini

July 30, 2010, 12:54 p.m.

Anything to get around the party of “no”.  We need to show that some of the issues being raised by the Obama administration will work and this might be the tool to do so.

I have not seen it definitively concluded that Obama has the authority to make such a sweeping executive decision when, just a few days ago, a federal judge issued a ruling stating that immigration policy is governed by acts of congress.  If we have one person making laws and enforcing those laws, what would their title be?  If Obama takes such an action, it is pretty much a guarantee it will be challenged under Constitutional grounds.

Nathan Warecki

July 30, 2010, 12:56 p.m.

The law is still the law, Mr. Youngston.  But that doesn’t mean the law can’t change or be enforced in a different way.  Many, many, many people support changing the way we deal with immigration.  Clearly you do not.  I suppose you think you’re opinion has more weight than those of other Americans.  Get off your high horse and stop drinking the Palin, Beck, O’Reilly koolaid.

Since the teabagging/gop are the party of no, and will go to all lengths to stop anything from getting done, I can’t blame the president.

However what I would like to see would be tougher laws against the businesses that HIRE illegal aliens, and make sure those businesses are punished but high fines and sending the people who are hiring into jail for a few months as well as fined themselves.

Good God, what don’t you understand about ILLEGAL.  Illegals of all stripes,  go home. 
We don’t want you here.

Nathan, have you looked at the polls on Americans opinions about immigration?  Clearly you are giving way too much credit to a few commentators preaching their conservative religion (when there is the rival liberal religion wanting face time as well!).  Has it occurred to you that most Americans feel that our Justice Department is acting unjustly by selectively enforcing the law as it pleases them?  That the arguments held up of the few exceptions of earthquake refugees and political persecution are so rare compared with the overall problem?  There is already a mechanism in place for foreign workers to come and work in the US for up to three years.  It does those people who enter the US legally a severe injustice to have ONE MAN grant amnesty to 20 million who have entered the country illegally.

Nathan Warecki

July 30, 2010, 1:17 p.m.

Driving above the speed limit is illegal too, k baker.  I suppose we should take your license away for ten years each time you speed?  That’s the equivalent.

Nathan Warecki

July 30, 2010, 1:20 p.m.

What are you talking about Victor?  This is an article about changing some intreptations of the law as it exists, not complete anmesty or any other change of the LAW. 

And the H-1B program you reference is a limited program and has its own problems.

One of the many things this country stands for is freedom and opportunity. All illegals now in the country should be able to become citizens; the first requirement , pay all back taxes for wages received, pay back the cost of any free health care received [ that the taxpayers paid for them] and learn the english language. Welcome to America brother—God Bless You.—

The laws are already on the books, all of them, sanctions against employers, laws against illegal entry, heck even the part the courts are trying to block in Arizona (carrying ID) is already there (8 U.S.C. 1304 Subsections D & E)  The problem is nobody wants to be the bad guy and enforce any of them and then they take it one step further by saying no we don’t want you to enforce it either.  How stretched would the Federal Government be if all states refused to assist in enforcing any federal laws, like an all or nothing attitude.

Yu shood all go back acros the oshain to the country of yor fathers.  Just cuz we Mexicans didnt kill the Indians first dusnt mean we cant live here two!

Maria you may have a point, but if my education serves me correctly didn’t the Spaniards come to South and Central America and wipe out the Incas and Myans in the 1500’s. (200+ years before the Indian wars). Some how I don’t think spanish was the native language back then.  And there now seems to be evidence that Asians crossed the Bering bridge connecting Alaska to Asia around 18,000 B.C.  So how far would you like to go back?

“This is an article about changing some intreptations of the law as it exists, not complete anmesty or any other change of the LAW.”

huh?  Are you reading the same article as everyone else?  My “interpretation” of the speed limit laws is that it is just a suggestion and that I can actually drive however fast I please, or, if I find it convenient, to strictly obey the suggested speed limit.

No, that won’t be received too well by law enforcement would it?

Now let us say I am the Police Chief in town and chose to drive my personal car as fast as I want.  Hey, I made the law, I enforce that law on everyone else, I don’t have to answer to anyone else. 

Now, a Federal judge, appointed by then President Clinton, said CONGRESS enacts laws that very specifically states authority, but the President wants to apply his own “interpretation” to those laws to give himself the sole power to grant amnesty to millions of illegal non-citizens (or not, as he so chooses).

You completely miss the point of this story if you fail to recognize this is a serious breech of authority to usurp the US Congress for enacting immigration policy.

Lez all go back and find out that we are all just the same.  We are all human and we all have history.  We have all make misstaks.  My father is deported cuz he stole a toothbrush and got shoplifting.  He had a green card.  You shoplift and you get a fine.  Is this fair?  Americans act like they own this land, but you stole, we stole, everybody stole.  Now the earth belongs to all of us and why can’t we all be kind and human and share?

what a slap in the face to all the people who came here legally and those who are still waiting for a chance to obtain a visa. illegal is illegal. if we disregard this fact what’s next. i’m tired of hearing “they’re doing the jobs nobody else wanted” i put 2 kids thru college and they, like i’m sure yours - had those jobs “that nobody else wanted” they waitressed, pumped gas and did all those charactor building and pocket money type jobs. as a single mom that helped.. a lot.  now try to find an American kid working anywhere..they aren’t, there no work. and with the unemployment rate rising i’m sure many a mon would sell donuts if you could find a shoppe that hired Americans. it’s a sad state of affairs when Americans come in second place in America.

Nathan Warecki

July 30, 2010, 1:58 p.m.

Mr. Victor.  I was using the speeding alegory to state that the punishment does not fit the crime. Only in this case, being “illegal” isn’t a crime at all, but a civil infraction. 

“You completely miss the point of this story if you fail to recognize this is a serious breech of authority to usurp the US Congress for enacting immigration policy.”  Issuing regulations to interpret the meaning of Congressional action IS the authority of the President.  As is the Judiciary’s power to review the Executive Branch’s interpretations.  Checks and balanaces my friend.  If the people (the plurality of people) really think that rounding up all the immigrants, tossing them into detention centers, breaking apart families, throwing out children, and sentencing people with a fear of persecution to death then the Congress will pass a law to that effect.  That’s not the law as it is.  This article doesn’t propose that the President is attempting to change the law, only his administration’s interpretation.

And Ms. Maria, go back to Mexico.

Bypassing Congress to offer amnesty at this point would assure a devastating loss for the Democrats in the November elections. Immigration reform advocates should consider the implications of that scenario and its resulting Congressional stalemate. Immigration reform is being used as political bait to divert the country’s attention from the Administration’s successes with its intelligent response to the Wall Street meltdown, its support of the auto industry, stimulus money to save jobs, financial industry reform, and most importantly, historic healthcare reform. Because of slowing 2nd quarter growth, the administration’s aggressive reponse to the recession will be tough to sell to voters. They don’t need an added reason to vote against the party of an president who unilaterally makes unpopular policies the law of the land.

You’re surprised? Compared with this administration, Boss Tweed and Tamany Hall were pikers. Our country today, the Obama is his being run by a gang of thugs.

Laurie, yu sound sad.  Do yu no how to come to United States legallly?  If yu are a hard worker mom like you, there is no way.  Yu are stuck in Mexico forever with no job, no money, and yor kids are sick and dying.  So yu risk yor life. Yu come somewhere that maybe yu can find work and work hard and send yor kids to college.  I am happy for yu cuz yu were born American.  I risk evrything so my kids can also be American.  Yu ask peple in Mexico to stay their forever with no hope for better life? No hope for escape from drugs and gangs? It seems easy when yu have evrything to tell others they cant have it two.  May be some Mexicans break the LAW to get here and that is too bad, but there is no LAW that can get them here legal.  Some die in the desert.  They risk their lives and die of thirst cuz it is better than living in death and fear in Mexico.  Sorry you think we deserve to die.  I am sad for you for that.  I no want to hurt America.  I love America.  I just dont want my babies to grow up with drugs and death. Do you? What I do? I have no skill. I have no American husband to get me visa.  What do I do to get here? There is no answer, so dont try.

Nathan WArecki

July 30, 2010, 2:05 p.m.

Some Facts to add to the anticdotes.

From 07/27/2010 CNN poll, page 5

Creating a program that would allow illegal immigrants already living in the United States for a number of years to stay here and apply to legally remain in this country permanently if they had a job and paid back taxes
July 16-21, 2010 FAVOR 81% OPPOSE 19%
Blacks FAVOR 82% OPPOSE 18%
Hispanics FAVOR 94% OPPOSE 6%
Whites FAVOR 78% OPPOSE 22% *

Mr. Warecki, I think yu joke because you seem on my side.  I hope yu joke!

Maria:  I understand your frustration with your own country, but the Mexican people have to rise up and INSIST on their own government giving them the living they get here.  What’s happening here, and what people are upset about, is that all the gangs and drugs are leaving Mexico and coming here…pretty soon, we’ll have the same problems you encountered in your own country.  I don’t believe that anyone coming across the border should be susceptible to death in the desert, but they need to come here legally.  My husband’s aunts in the Philappines have been trying for over 10 years to get visas to come here…they’re still waiting and one of them has passed away while waiting.  But, they prefer to come over legally rather than have the fear of being deported.  It seems to me that the stress of possibly being deported and the possibility of dying in the desert, would make it more reasonable for any person in Mexico to want to come here legally.

John Donnelly

July 30, 2010, 2:20 p.m.

Totalitarian countries of the world are guaranteed a populace to abuse because those poor folks can’t go anywhere else. I say we open our borders (slowly of course) with lot’s of planning. Many will come, some will stay and some will return to their homeland. How can you not share a good thing? Don’t be afraid. They’re people…humans. Share the wealth!

We will sell them stuff (homes, cars etc) we’ll all get rich, we’ll retire and die; and we will have done a good thing.

“Fear is the mind killer” - Frank Herbert

Ronald Babcock

July 30, 2010, 2:25 p.m.

I think Obama wants to show Congress he isn’t a Lame Duck President even if the Republician wins either the House or Senate.  Or he is trying to push Congress into doing something about reform.

Didi: Yu no answer my question.  How I come here legally?  Yu tell me “rise up?” That sound all great and movie star history of you.  How I rise up? I go home, to the gangs, and tell them stop? I die in the street? I watch my children die? To rise up? Lucky yu.  Someone rose up for you before you were born.  I have no family to get me visa in US.  So I cant come legally like yor husband’s family.  There is no way for me if I don’t have education and don’t have family here.  There is nothing.  So you tell me “rise up” and make Mexico safe for my children?  How is that smart? How does that make sense? I dont want to die for Mexico.  I dont want my children to die because mommy says rise up.  I want to live my life, like yu live yor life.  You tell me, now, please how I live here legal.  I see a lawyer.  Lawyer told me there is no LAW that I can get here legal because I am WORTHLESS to US.  I am not educated.  I am not family.  I am nothing.  Well, I think I am something.  I think my children are something.  And I dont die and they dont die because I should rise up.

Sorry Nathan, but you are living with your head buried in the sand. The fine for speeding is monetary. For being in our country illegally the fine is deportation and should be exacted as quickly as that for a speeding ticket - 30 days maximum. Why the appeal process? If they are here illegally what is to appeal? Humanitarian considerations? Bunk!! They are ILLEGAL!! If
some of them happened to get away with it for 10, 15, 20 or more years before getting caught and they have jobs, cars, homes, and other property (all acquired illegally!!!) they still need to be deported immediately without any appeal process. The LTC is absolutely correct in that any amnesty would simply multiply the problem several fold.  Maria, it sounds as if you are one of the illegals from the kinds of thoughts you express. I suggest that if you really want to “share land” that you return to Mexico and share that land with your fellow citizens.

SamJr: I no yu never break a law.  Yu must be so wondrfol to never break a law.  And also so wise! Why not you move to Mexico? Become the president.  Teach us yor ways and we can all rise up!

By the way, you have a brother who like brown eyes???

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